The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping is meeting in San Francisco in the United States for the Leaders’ Week which began on November 11 and will conclude with the Economic Leaders’ Retreat on Friday (November 17). US President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping will have their first in-person meeting in a year on Wednesday (November 15) on the sidelines of the APEC summit. India is not a member; however, India’s Union Minister for Commerce and Industry, Piyush Goyal, is attending the forum.
Biden and Xi will meet amid the tensions and prolonged low in US-China relations, with issues of trade being among the major sticking points. Among the other leaders in San Francisco this week are Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo. President Vladimir Putin of Russia has not attended any major international summits since he invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and he will be represented by Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk, who is not under US sanctions.
What are the issues at the summit, and how has APEC played a role as a forum through the years? We take a look.
What is APEC and when was it founded?
APEC is a regional economic forum that was established in 1989. Its stated aim was to “leverage the growing interdependence of the Asia-Pacific and create greater prosperity for the people of the region through regional economic integration”. Notably, many East Asian countries had recorded increasing growth rates in the ’80s and the decade preceding the formation of the forum.
The 21 members of APEC are termed “economies” (rather than countries or member states) because trade and economic issues are the focus of the grouping. In a reflection of the idea, Taiwan and Hong Kong attend APEC meetings as distinct entities, even though China says they are parts of China and not independent entities.
The APEC economies are Australia, Brunei, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong (as part of China), the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Peru, and Chile – as located geographically around the Pacific Ocean.
What role has it played over the years?
The grouping has always championed free trade, the lowering of trade tariffs, and economic liberalisation. According to the US State Department, “During its first five years of operation, APEC established its core objectives. In the 1991 Seoul Declaration, APEC member economies proclaimed the creation of a liberalized free trade area around the Pacific Rim as the principle objective of the organization.”
An article by experts at the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), noted, “The dynamic growth attributable to APEC initiatives contributed significantly to the development of a growing middle class in the developing Asia-Pacific region. APEC economies’ 2.9 billion citizens make up roughly 60 percent of global GDP. As of 2018, they represented 48 percent of global trade.”
India has expressed interest in joining APEC, and made a formal request in 1991 – the year in which the Union government ushered in economic reforms for liberalisation and globalisation. In 2016, then Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman told Parliament that the request to join was based on India’s geographical location, the potential size of the economy, and degree of trade interaction with the Asia-Pacific.
The response noted that APEC has had an informal moratorium on expanding membership for many years now. This is despite the fact that the US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region issued in 2015 states that “The United States welcomes India’s interest in joining the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, as the Indian economy is a dynamic part of the Asian economy.”
What’s of note in this year’s APEC summit?
The Biden-Xi meeting is the highlight – even though it is unlikely to lead to a significant immediate change in US-China relations as they stand. However, the two powers have been engaging in high-level official interactions in recent months, which have included a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the US this year. US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have visited China.
According to the AP, Biden is hoping to highlight progress on the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which started last year after former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the more popular Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Today, 14 members are part of the IPEF. Apart from Fiji and India, the rest are all APEC members.