June 22, 2021
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APEC Leaders Including US President Trump, Agree To Implement Free Trade Policies

The leaders of the APEC member nations have also agreed to usher in investments to revive their coronavirus-battered economies.

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APEC Leaders Including US President Trump, Agree To Implement Free Trade Policies
Donald Trump
APEC Leaders Including US President Trump, Agree To Implement Free Trade Policies

Leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, including US President Donald Trump, have pledged to work towards free, open and non-discriminatory trade and investment to revive their coronavirus-battered economies.

The leaders cast aside differences to issue their first joint statement on Friday, in which they agreed to further deepen regional integration by working toward a massive free trade agreement involving all the 21 APEC economies.

This year's host, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, told a news conference that the US-China trade war that had hampered talks in the past has “been eclipsed" by the Covid-19 pandemic. With growth in the Asia-Pacific region expected to slump to 2.7% this year, from a 3.6% growth in 2019, he said APEC's focus was on accelerating economic recovery and developing an affordable vaccine. “The health risks and its impact on the global economic ecosystem has been the major priority for all APEC economies this year," Yassin said.

APEC nations account for 60% of global GDP. APEC members have “pledged to refrain from backtracking and resorting to protectionist measures to keep markets and borders open," Yassin added.

The APEC leaders’ meeting was the first since 2018 after last year’s host, Chile, cancelled the annual summit due to violent domestic protests. Also, at the Papua New Guinea summit in 2018, APEC leaders failed to issue a joint statement amid a US-China row over trade policies.

Trump’s participation on Friday, his first since 2017, came as a surprise as he challenges the outcome of the US presidential election, won by Joe Biden. Last weekend, Trump skipped the East Asia Summits and withdrew from speaking at an APEC CEO meeting. Trump, whose “America First" policy has alienated trading partners, addressed the meeting but his speech wasn't immediately available.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his remarks, urged countries to “defend multilateralism” and called for the establishment of an “Asia-Pacific free trade zone at an early date." He informed the gathering that Beijing would also “actively consider” joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that includes Japan, Canada, Mexico and other regional economies but not the United States. Trump pulled out of the CPTPP’s predecessor, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which never took effect. Xi's comments came just after Beijing and 14 other Asian nations inked the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the world’s largest free trade agreement.

If China were to join the CPTPP, that would make Xi’s government a member of the Asia-Pacific region’s two biggest trade arrangements, while Washington is part of neither.

APEC leaders adopted the Putrajaya Vision 2040, a new 20-year growth vision to replace the Bogor Goals named after the Indonesian town where leaders agreed in 1994 to free and open trade and investment. They pledged to build an “open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful region” by 2040, and tasked officers to draw up implementation plans by next year.

“We recognise the importance of a free, open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent and predictable trade and investment environment to drive economic recovery at such a challenging time," a joint statement read. “We resolve to further navigate the region towards recovery along the path of strong, balanced, inclusive, sustainable, innovative and secure economic growth,” the statement added.

Earlier on Friday, the leaders of Japan and New Zealand warned countries against the temptation of retreating into trade protectionism. Speaking by video link from Tokyo during the meeting of APEC CEOs, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said “making rules for a free and fair global economy is critically important." While continuing to promote WTO reform, he said Japan will “aspire for the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who will be next year's APEC host, voiced hope that APEC leaders will join hands to bolster the regional economy. “As we confront this generation’s biggest economic challenge, we must not repeat the mistakes of history by retreating into protectionism. APEC must continue to commit to keeping markets open and trade flowing," she said.

APEC brings together Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.



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