As APEC works towards greater free trade and market integration, game-changing issues in the regional and global economic environment are prompting member economies to rethink how best to achieve these goals to better support cross-border business and long-term growth.
The future of cooperation within APEC was the focus of a recent gathering of regional officials and private sector representatives in Ha Noi, hosted on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of Viet Nam’s ascension to APEC.
“The weak global economic recovery, rise in protectionism, uncertainty in the international trading system and shifts in the regional architecture are cause for introspection among us,” said Pham Binh Minh, Viet Nam’s Foreign Affairs Minister and newly designated Deputy Prime Minister. “It is time to rethink and act together to retain APEC’s relevance. APEC members have so many shared interests and responsibilities.”
“Our priority is to make a more meaningful contribution to the common efforts of APEC so that we may deliver value to more businesses and improve the livelihoods of more people across our economies,” Pham explained. The implications are significant given the level of interdependence in the region.
In the case of Viet Nam, the APEC region now accounts for 65 percent of its total foreign direct investment, 60 percent of exports, 80 percent of imports. And 12 out of 14 free trade agreements that it has signed or currently working on are with APEC economies.
“The direction APEC should take in the 21st century Asia-Pacific is a question on the minds of many, not to mention China as next year’s chair,” said Ambassador Tan Jian, China’s senior APEC official. “Member economies have expressed high expectations and a desire to pursue an agenda that is result-oriented, strategic and future-focused.”
“We see the proliferation of free trade agreements and people ask how it will affect APEC’s vision for a region-wide free trade area – Will it lead to regional integration or fragmentation,” Tan noted. “We hope to send a message to the world that measures such as TPP and RCEP are not competing with each other but can be complementary.”
APEC economies’ priority areas of collaboration during China’s chairmanship will be set at a curtain raising meeting in Beijing on 10 December 2013.
“The challenges that continue to saddle global trade negotiations offer lessons for us in APEC,” added Dr Alan Bollard, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat, who was in Geneva last week to gauge the status of preparations for the 9th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Bali next month. “Keeping pace with the changing landscape is an aspect of this.”
“Our progress this year in taking the issue of connectivity forward and particular steps to address the region’s infrastructure needs can make a difference in the growth trajectory of economies and will be among the areas for us to work on,” said Dr Bollard. “Feeling out APEC’s role as an integrator could become an issue meriting greater focus as we learn more about where global and regional trade talks stand in the coming weeks,” he concluded.