An Epic Spirit
APEC shifts from trade-centric growth to inclusive development
By He Xilin  ·  2019-11-05  ·   Source: NO.45 NOVEMBER 7, 2019
An exhibition on green supply chains on the sidelines of an APEC seminar in Tianjin, a port city in north China, on September 26 (VCG)

Though host Chile announced in late October that the 27th APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, to have been held in capital Santiago on November 16-17, has been suspended due to the unrest in the country, the regional trade bloc still has many things to celebrate.

It is observing its 30th anniversary this year, a reminder that it has come a long way. From the early meetings in Australia in 1989, when the ministers of 12 Asian and Pacific economies decided to float an informal forum to discuss free trade and economic cooperation, today APEC has developed into the most extensive and influential economic cooperation mechanism in the Asia-Pacific with 21 members.

In the pre-APEC days, high trade barriers hindered regional economic growth. Free trade agreements, which would have been a way out, however required protracted negotiations and gamesmanship, and so APEC offered a better platform for trade and investment liberalization with its principle of consensus-based actions that were also non-binding. In 1994, the members met in Bogor, Indonesia, to decide on a long-term plan. The Bogor Goals committed to achieve free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by 2010 for industrialized economies, and by 2020 for developing economies.

Today, the average tariff among APEC members has dropped from 17 percent to 5 percent, and 70 percent of APEC imports and exports are intra-regional. The Asia-Pacific market has taken shape and the Asia-Pacific has become an engine of the world economy. Besides progress in trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, APEC has also chalked up substantial achievements in technological cooperation.

With the Bogor deadline expiring next year, the focus is on the future cooperation direction of APEC after 2020.

Going beyond regional

Although a regional mechanism, APEC's future is influenced by both regional and global developments since China and the U.S., the two largest economies in the world contributing 70 percent of the global economic growth, are its members. Moreover, it covers diverse economies, from high-income to low-income ones. Therefore its future direction must reflect the needs of a wide range of economies.

In today's world, the digital economy and the sharing economy are two emerging trends. The emergence of new technologies such as big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence and new industries like smart manufacturing, 3D printing and green energy has changed and shaped countries' overall national strength and competitive advantages. They have also changed international trade relations and the way of economic cooperation. With the new round of technological and industrial revolution, reducing traditional trade costs alone cannot meet the requirements of economic cooperation.

So the APEC members need to enhance their capacity building, share and learn from one another's best practices, cooperate in various fields and industries, and strengthen information exchange. Only in this way can the regional and global economy realize true growth.

Development for all

People's understanding of growth is also undergoing changes. The unilateral pursuit of high economic growth and GDP is losing its appeal. At the APEC CEO Summit in Da Nang, Viet Nam, in 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, "The vision of innovative, coordinated, green and open development for all is gaining increasing public support. To achieve more comprehensive, higher-quality and more sustainable development has become the shared goal of the international community."

As a critical engine of the global economy, the Asia-Pacific should put these development concepts into practice by embracing innovative and inclusive development.

Given the profound changes in the world economic landscape and governance, development is replacing trade to become the objective of global economic collaboration. At the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Beijing in 2014, innovative development was one of the three major topics on the agenda. Two years later, at the Group of 20 Summit in Hangzhou in east China, inclusive growth was the consensus of the members. In recent years, APEC meetings have all been hosted by developing economies, which have emphasized innovative development and inclusive growth.

The deepening of globalization calls on countries to pay more attention to the diverse groups. Since globalization is now regarded as a double-edged sword that has widened the gap between the poor and the rich and led to inequalities, inclusive growth is the remedy for the negative impacts of globalization.

Keeping this in mind, to encourage the growth of all groups, APEC has in recent years discussed improving the employability of the differently abled and small and medium-sized enterprises' participation in international competition.

CHILE People attend the third 2019 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Senior Officials' Meeting, which was held on August 29- 30 in Puerto Varas, on August 29 (XINHUA)

Thrust areas

APEC has been addressing a wide range of issues for innovative and inclusive growth.

Interconnectivity is one of them. The APEC Connectivity Blueprint 2015-25, adopted at the Beijing meeting in 2014, seeks to seamlessly and comprehensively connect and integrate the Asia-Pacific through physical, institutional and people-to-people connectivity. The blueprint also envisions expanding regional investment and domestic demand, increasing employment, curbing extremism and giving fresh impetus to regional and global growth.

The digital economy is another focus since it is the future trend of global development. The APEC Initiative of Cooperation to Promote Internet Economy adopted in 2014 encourages actions for innovative growth including technological exchanges and capacity building, and utilizing the Internet economy to empower vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. Three years later, the APEC Internet and Digital Economy Roadmap was developed for increasing access to digital technology and the digital economy. At the 2018 APEC meeting in Papua New Guinea, themed Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future, the consensus was to strengthen digital infrastructure and capacity building and eliminate the digital divide.

In addition, sustainable and inclusive growth should be promoted in different sectors. Currently, APEC is focusing on areas including agriculture, the ocean, energy and climate change and issues related to urbanization, enterprises, women and the differently abled. It has also synergized its agenda with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. China will reach its goal of eliminating extreme poverty by 2020, which could provide valuable experience for the inclusive growth of APEC.

In the past three decades, seven concepts have appeared with high frequency in global dialogues. They are open, gradual, voluntary, consultation, development, mutual benefit and common interests, all of which reflect the spirit of APEC.

The author is an assistant research fellow with the China National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

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