OPINION: The online meeting of APEC economic leaders chaired by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over the weekend highlights why APEC is still important.
During this year, APEC’s New Zealand program sought to reach an agreement on economic and trade policies to strengthen the recovery from Covid-19, increasing its inclusiveness and sustainability, and strengthening the role of innovation in a digital recovery.
Targets set at the 2020 summit in Malaysia have been strengthened, with members pledging to conduct detailed reviews of progress towards implementation by 2040.
There has been practical progress on eliminating tariffs and restrictions on trade in Covid drugs, support for a temporary exemption on intellectual property on Covid vaccines and on the digitization of trade authorization procedures.
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Following the COP26 summit in Glasgow, the main achievements were agreements between the 21 APEC economies for a standstill on fossil fuel subsidies by 2022, on stricter targets for renewable energy from by 2030, and to remove trade restrictions on an additional list of environmental goods and services.
Another great achievement has been to support the stabilization of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the results of trade reform, including agricultural subsidies and fisheries. APEC has played a crucial role in upholding multilateral principles in trade as the United States moved away from it under former President Donald Trump and sought to emasculate the WTO.
APEC members stood firm against Trump at the APEC summit in Vietnam in 2017. Auckland is an important step in bringing the Biden administration back into the fold, though it continues to abide by managed trade rules of Trump with China and in his steel and aluminum settlement with Europe
The post-war global economic order that shaped the relationship between the United States and Asia and supported Asia’s prosperity and security is under pressure. Small and medium powers like New Zealand and Australia rely as much on the multilateral order as on their alliance relationship with the United States as a pillar of national security, anchoring their integration into the dynamic Asian regional economy.
The structure of world power has radically changed. Much of this shift was brought about by the success of the post-war order itself, as Asia (especially China) joined the global trading system to achieve rapid economic growth. The rise of China, with its new economic and political weight, is no longer seen in the United States and elsewhere as a cause for celebration, but rather as a source of concern.
The conflict between the United States and China, and China’s coercive trade tactics, have seriously damaged confidence in the global trade regime. These pressures have intensified sharply through the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the tensions of the great powers and the world economy.
So the background to APEC’s achievements in New Zealand is a hard and continuous game between the major players in the great struggles over how the world should be run today. The protagonists are structured into members of APEC, just like China and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan).
Submit this year nominations from China and Taiwan to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which New Zealand is now responsible for coordinating, for the additional diplomatic toxicity that had to be addressed this year. .
This is where the great value of APEC lies.
The United States and China both have a skin in the APEC game. The framework in which they must deal is multilateral, and their transactions are fully visible to the other 19 members. APEC is not a negotiating forum that delivers formal interstate agreements or has supranational legal authority. It gives an equal voice to all its members, large, small and medium, and requires consensus among all its members. It is no coincidence that the Biden-Xi summit is following in the footsteps of APEC.
APEC’s now entrenched cooperation processes build familiarity and engage officials as well as businesses. Its members provide an ideal platform for dialogues on complex and difficult issues, exploring their solutions and strategizing for separate negotiations.
The architecture of regional cooperation and engagement through APEC has been deliberately designed to complement and strengthen the rules-based global order, not as a substitute for it. On occasion, it has done so in exemplary fashion, for example, through trade reform on technology and environmental goods.
Preserving the fundamental principles and rules of the global trade, investment and finance system is now a strategic priority. A withdrawal from multilateral rules will destroy global economic and political arrangements, and Asia will be particularly affected by the intense nature and structure of its regional interdependencies.
World trade rules are outdated and cover a smaller proportion of world trade each year. Rules are needed for trade in services, investment and the digital economy, and disciplines are needed for subsidies in fisheries, agriculture and industry. Changing the rules where there are significant gaps, such as those governing the digital economy, is also a priority. APEC serves to mobilize political capital around a package for comprehensive reform of the WTO, as well as to guide the region through the recovery from Covid-19 and to monitor climate change and sustainable development .
In a world that has changed so much, the big challenges today are working on what is important in the global economic order, what is broken and what needs to be done to fix it, as well as how to close the gaps. loopholes that arose because the rules did not follow blindness, rapid change.
APEC’s core business and New Zealand’s year of hosting prove that in this time of global upheaval and uncertainty, it matters more than ever.
Peter Drysdale is Professor Emeritus, Editor-in-Chief of East Asia Forum (www.eastasiaforum.org) and Head of the East Asia Office at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University in Canberra. He is widely recognized as the intellectual architect of APEC.
This story was produced as part of a publication in partnership with APEC 2021.
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