By Steven Martin Kensington

From 6th to 11th November, 21 world leaders met in Da Nang, Viet Nam, for the 25th annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The cooperation was first established in 1989, as suggested by Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke in a speech in Seoul, South Korea, but the first official meeting, and the start of the annual tradition, didn’t start before 1993. Its members have had meetings every year since, taking place in various APEC member economies (“The word ‘economies’ is used to describe APEC members because the APEC cooperative process is predominantly concerned with trade and economic issues, with members engaging with one another as economic entities.”). The founding members were Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and the United States. China, Hong Kong, and Chinese Taipei joined in 1991; Mexico and Papua New Guinea in 1993; Chile in 1994; and Peru, Russia and Viet Nam in 1998. Former President Bill Clinton started the practice of an annual APEC meeting among its economies.

As every year, the members of APEC made a joint statement, which can be read in its entirety here. The topics concerned here are (1) Deepening Regional Economic Integration; (2) Promoting sustainable, innovative and inclusive growth; (3) Strengthening the MSMEs’ Competitiveness and Innovation; (4) Enhancing food security and sustainable agriculture in response to climate change; (5) Economic and Technical Cooperation (ECOTECH) and other sectoral outcomes; and (6) Looking forward. It is my deepest recommendation to read the statement in its entirety, but for your convenience, I will highlight some noteworthy excerpts:
1.7. “We recall our pledge to extend our standstill commitment until the end of 2020 and recommit to fight protectionism, including all unfair trade practices, recognizing the role of legitimate trade defense instruments.”
1.12. “We encourage economies to enhance capacity building, support more investment and policy dialogues, and promote inclusive business and community engagement to highlight the benefits of investment and encourage investment that supports inclusive economic growth.”
1.13. “Bearing in mind the role of the Internet and Digital Economy in promoting innovative development and empowering economic participation, we emphasize the opportunities that the Internet and Digital Economy offers of achieve sustainable, inclusive and innovative growth, including businesses’ participation, particularly MSMEs’ (Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) in GVCs (Global Value Chain) and the global markets.
We encourage economies’ initiatives to explore new areas of potential economic growth in the area of digital trade, including identifying building blocks. As building consumer trust in the use of the Internet is critical to the growth of Internet and Digital Economy in the region, we support continued dialogue between the public and private sectors to strengthen that trust through appropriate consumer protection and privacy rules.”
1.14. “We emphasize that MSMEs’ participation in the digital economy should foster inclusive growth and reduce inequality.”
1.16. “We commend the progress in implementing the commitment to reduce tariffs to five percent or less on the 54 products in the APEC List of Environment Services Action Plan (ESAP) and look forward to further concrete outcomes.”
1. 17. “We acknowledge the importance of adequate investment and strengthened public-private partnerships in infrastructure development in terms of both quality and quantity.”
1. 18. “Noting the importance of the economic integration of rural and remote areas for sustainable and inclusive growth in the APEC region, we recommend actions to promote sub-regional, rural and remote area connectivity, sustainable tourism and reliable transportation, telecommunication and internet.”
1.22 “We reaffirm our commitment to advance work programs that reduce trade costs in the region.”
1.23 “We recognize the benefits, effectiveness and efficiency of public sector and self-regulatory organizations working together on self-regulatory approaches, contributing to potential reduction of the cost of doing business in the region.”
1.28 “We recognize the importance of cooperation in the area of intellectual property (IP) rights, including protection and enforcement. We encourage economies to promote IP policies and programs that cultivate, foster, support, protect and advance innovation and creativity.”
2. 29. “We stress the importance of promoting economic, financial and social inclusion in promoting economic growth, narrowing the development gap, reducing equality and broadening access to finance, quality education and health services with a view to further spreading the benefits of growth to all segments of our societies, including the most vulnerable groups, towards a more inclusive APEC community by 2030, thus consistent with 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
2.33. “We encourage further cooperation in cross-border education, including higher education, and technical vocational education and training (TVET).”
2.34. “We welcome the outcomes of the High-level Policy Dialogue on Human Resources Development in the Digital Age which focused on promoting quality human resources and education, skills needed in the digital age, sustainable employment, social safety nets and capacity building, particularly for women and youth, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.”
2.37. “We call on economies to support women’s economic empowerment through concrete policies and measures to improve women’s access to capital, assets, markets, and capacity building and to improve women’s skills, education, and health outcomes.”
2. 38. “We also encourage economies to share best practices and explore innovative sustainable health financing tools, improve health systems and recognize that members’ goals to promote Universal Health Coverage (UHC) can be important in building healthy populations which in turn support economic growth.”
2. 39. “We encourage further STI [Science, Technology and Innovation] information exchange and policy coordination among member economies as well as increased engagement of multi-stakeholders such as private, scientific, industrial and academic sectors in promoting inclusive and innovative development.”
2. 43. “We are committed to deny safe havens for corrupt officials and their proceeds of corruption. We also commit to working towards strengthened cooperation on extradition.”
3.47. “We call for a reduction in costs associated with non-tariff barriers to facilitate the building of MSMEs’ capacity for internationalization and the promotion of a pro-competitive environment with a view to widening access to finance, infrastructure, particularly IT infrastructure and technology.”
3.48. “We urge APEC economies to support start-ups through establishing conducive regulatory frameworks that promote a business-friendly environment.”
4.49. “We reiterate the importance of food security and sustainable and resilient agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries in eradicating poverty, increasing agricultural trade, promoting sustainable and inclusive development in the Asia-Pacific region.”
4.50. “We urge member economies to strengthen policy coordination and cooperation and share experiences in addressing the relationship between food security and climate change and collaborate on technology development, information sharing, and capacity building.”
4.51. “We encourage all economies and stakeholders, particularly the private sector, to engage in ocean-related cooperation, including investment in sustainable materials management and waste management infrastructure, to reduce land based sources of marine debris in APEC.”
4.53. “We encourage regional cooperation on food standards and improved efficiency of food trade.”
5. 57. “We welcome the efforts toward reducing aggregate energy intensity, accelerating clean, efficient, and renewable energy deployment, pursuing sustainable and resilient energy development, and developing diversified, flexible and integrated natural gas market in the Asia-Pacific, which in particular may contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
5.60. “We recognize the importance of achieving and assessing in due course, aspirational goal of increasing forest cover in the region by at least 20 million hectares by 2020.”
6.64. “We reaffirm APEC’s global leadership in promoting growth, regional economic integration, trade and investment liberalization, and addressing global challenges, and we recognize APEC’s contribution to sustainable development.”
6.67. “We look forward to Papua New Guinea’s hosting of APEC 2018.”

Just by peaking their website, it’s clear that they think highly of their work, they even have their own “Achievements and Benefits” tab there. They proclaim to have increased their regional trade by some 6,7 times between 1989 and 2015, while the rest of the world only grew about 5,6 times; reduced average tariffs from 17% in 1989 to 5,6% in 2014; lowered trade transaction cost by 5% between 2007 and 2010, saving US$56,7 billion; improved the ease of doing business in the Asia-Pacific by 14,8% between 2009 and 2015 across all areas of the initiative; reduced the time it takes to issue construction permits from 169,7 days in 2009 to 136,9 days in 2015; decreased the time it takes to start a business from 28,5 days in 2009 to 14,8 days in 2015; reduced cost to start a business from 9,8% of per capita income in 2009 to 1,6% in 2015; and drives a nearly US$600 billion global trade in environmental goods.

They sure seem to have a lot to be proud of here, and its economies seem to have great benefit from its program. They also seem satisfied. Viet Nam President Tran Dai Quang said that “APEC has shown its dynamism, adaptability and flexibility towards changes.”

Some of the plans of APEC for the future are MYAP and AP. MYAP, short for Food Security and Climate Change Multi-Year Action Plan, is scheduled 2018-2020. As APEC themselves write about MYAP, it “will promote a more coordinated regional effort at addressing the closely linked challenges of food security, development, and climate change adaptation and mitigation.” Their three objectives with this plan is to (1) “Enhance the capacities of APEC economies in developing and disseminating approaches to address the food security-climate change relationship in the short, medium, and long term; (2) Increase the knowledge of adaptation, mitigation, and productivity among APEC economies. Activities such as targeted capacity building activities focused on sharing and disseminating related priorities, good practices, policy approaches, appropriate technologies, lessons learned, and other information will help achieve the goals identified; (3) Utilize the current APEC structure to provide means of support for APEC economies to better share experiences and promote cooperation in the development of approaches to addressing food security-climate change relationships, as applicable and based on identified capacity gaps.” This plan will be overviewed and managed by Policy-Partnership on Food Security (PPFS). The team will consist of representatives from Viet Nam, Papua New Guinea, Chile and Malaysia, as well as other interested economies and private sector participants. The plan consists of two phases: Stocktaking and Analysis in 2018, and Training and Integration from 2019 to 2020. At the first phase, research and analyses will be conducted and incentive policies implemented to promote investments. The second will focus on training opportunities and “integrating new practices for APEC economies to improve their abilities to combat food insecurity and climate change.” The document states that it’s a living documents, and that the “review and updating process can be flexible and should be based upon the progress made on the most recent version of the MYAP.”

AP, short for Action Plan on Rural-Urban Development to Strengthen Food Security and Quality Growth, will also be executed by the PPFS, and will work on addressing the food security and quality growth challenges brought about by a rapidly urbanizing region. AP’s three objectives are (1) “Increase knowledge, information, and experience-sharing regarding good practices and lessons learned; (2) Utilise current APEC structure to provide means for APEC economies to better share experiences and promote economic cooperation to enhance food security and quality growth; and (3) Enhance capacities of APEC economies to address rural-urban linkages, in order to improve food security and quality growth.” They state that the member-societies can decide themselves whether they want to undertake all or only some of the activities, based on their domestic circumstance. They have a list of 12 key actions to accomplish, including:

• Stocktaking of economy-level analysis of policies/programs
• Developing and operating APEC web-based information systems
• Organizing regional/economy-level workshops
• Conducting regional-level dialogues
• Collaborating with and leveraging partnerships with relevant APEC sub-fora, international/regional entities
• Conducting regional/economy-level studies
• Conducting economy-level feasibility studies
• Organizing capacity-building activities
• Consolidating and developing toolkits
• Piloting models of rural-urban development
• Piloting regional/economy-level public-private partnerships
• Establishing and operating APEC multi-stakeholder platforms
In their document explaining this plan, they have set up a table noting (1) Potential activities, (2) Strategic Framework Areas, (3) Potential leading economies, and (4) Proposed timeframe. This signifies that AP in itself, in contrast to MYAP, is only a categorization of several plans with their own activities and proposed timeframes. Nonetheless, APEC seems to aim high, and have hitherto achieved quite a lot.