Open, free trade the crux of APEC 2020

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 — Malaysia boldly tackled the challenges brought about by a health pandemic in hosting and concluding its year-long APEC chairmanship with a strong pledge towards free, open and non-discriminatory trade and investment.

The vital clarion call to the 21-member economies made via webcam to webcam in the regional economic forum that ended yesterday is much more needed now than ever amid the common interest in safeguarding lives and livelihoods against COVID-19.

It was evidence when the Chair of 27th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting (AELM), Malaysian Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said that there were no sticking points this year despite the US-China trade war.

“APEC’s immediate priority is to ensure the readiness of the health and medical care institutions to provide critical treatment, as well as to manage public health policies to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“From the economic perspective, the impact has been severely devastating, with a significant number of companies and businesses going into distress, or even folding.

“Furthermore, the region has seen a record number of job loss,” he said during a virtual conference with the media after the meeting adjourned.

Among the leaders at this year’s AELM were US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. In 2018, APEC leaders failed to issue a joint statement for the first time amid the trade row between Washington and Beijing.

Last year, the AELM meeting scheduled in Chile was cancelled due to anti-government protests across cities in the country.

However, this year, both leaders agreed to set aside the differences and recognized 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.


Xi said economies need to shift toward closer regional economic integration, as well as accelerate innovation-driven growth, enhance regional connectivity, and realise inclusive and sustainable development.

Reiterating China’s stance on multilateral agreement, during the CEO dialogue session in conjunction with APEC, he said that China has not stalled in its pursuit of open ing up its economy in the midst of instability and uncertainty in the world economy this year, as well as mounting protectionism and unilateralism.

“Openness enables a country to move forward while isolation is holding it back. In today’s world where economic globalisation has become an irreversible trend, no country can develop itself by keeping its doors closed.

“China is already deeply integrated into the global economy and the international system. We will not reverse course or run against historical trend by ‘decoupling’ or forming a small circle to keep others out,” he said.

Amidst the ongoing pandemic, which has claimed 1.34 million lives globally, Muhyiddin called on the member economies to accelerate work towards developing the COVID-19 vaccine and making it a global public good that is available and affordable to all, that is, multi-lateralising the vaccine.

The 21 member economies consist of 60 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP).

All leaders had noted their commitments to collaborate and support each other for equitable access to the vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

The Malaysian Prime Minister said an important call for action was the Declaration on Facilitating the Movement of Essential Goods in APEC, which was pioneered by Malaysia.

This declaration seeks to ensure that essential goods are able to move across borders without being subjected to unfair trade measures.

He pointed out that the colossal impact of the pandemic upon APEC economies might result in regional growth declining by 2.7 per cent in 2020, against a 3.6 per cent growth last year, making it the most significant drop since the near-zero growth rate recorded in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

The 2.7 per cent contraction would represent a loss of production of US$2.1 trillion and an additional 23 million unemployed workers across the region.

Meanwhile, the 2020 APEC also witnessed the adoption of the “Putrajaya Vision 2040”, a fresh vision that replaced the Bogor Goals announced back in 1994.

The Putrajaya Vision is for an open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful Asia-Pacific community for the prosperity of all the people in the region and future generations.

Asian economies have emerged at the forefront of global free trade agreement activity, although called latecomer, Asia regionalism seems to remain amid slow progress in the WTO’s Doha negotiations.

The recently signed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement would also remove the obstacles for free trade and investment.

Next year, New Zealand will play host to APEC 2021, and is tasked with a tougher job of planning and drawing up the new agenda which is expected to be held online.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern emphasised that APEC economies must not repeat the mistakes of history by retreating into protectionism amidst confronting this generation’s biggest economic challenge.

“APEC must continue to commit to keeping markets open and trade flowing. We are doing practical things to show that determination,” she said. 

Malaysia last hosted the 10th AELM in November 1998.

The theme for this year’s APEC 2020 meetings was “Optimising Human Potential towards a Resilient Future of Shared Prosperity: Pivot. Prioritise”, which will guide the development and implementation of key policies.

APEC, established in 1989, aims to develop and strengthen the multilateral trading system and to promote regional economic integration and sustainable economic growth.

The 21-member grouping is made up of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, the US, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Russia, and Vietnam.


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