APEC to compile new vision statement promoting free trade, investment

©Kyodo News

Ministers from 21 Pacific Rim economies held a teleconference Monday to discuss a new vision statement for the region focusing on free trade and investment, while also taking up measures to facilitate economic recovery following the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"Now is the time when Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation members must work together to face the coronavirus crisis," Japanese Economy Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama told the APEC meeting of trade and foreign ministers. "Japan will proactively contribute to the development of the Asia-Pacific region for the next 20 years under the new vision."

The meeting was held a day after 15 Asia-Pacific countries, including Japan, China and South Korea, concluded eight years of talks and signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership deal, giving impetus to the promotion of free trade and investment in the region amid the global pandemic.

APEC members including the United States see RCEP, the world's biggest trade bloc, and the 11-party Trans-Pacific Partnership as steps toward realizing an APEC-wide free trade agreement called the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. Both RCEP and the TPP do not include the world's biggest economy.

At the meeting, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi vowed Tokyo will make efforts to steadily expand the membership of the TPP and to implement RCEP at an early date, seeing both frameworks as pathways to the creation of the FTAAP.

The APEC ministers have been tasked with formulating the post-2020 vision for the regional forum to replace the current "Bogor Goals," agreed by APEC leaders in 1994 for the region to achieve free and open trade and investment by 2010 for industrialized economies and by 2020 for its developing member economies.

This year marks the end of the Bogor Goals and the APEC leaders are set to adopt the new vision statement in an online summit on Friday, delegates said.

The "document is set to build on the success of Bogor Goals and will chart the long-term strategic direction for the region, in the years to come, at least for the next two decades," said Mohamed Azmin Ali, Malaysia's minister of international trade and industry, in his opening remarks as chairman of the meeting.

Following the meeting, the APEC ministers aim to release a joint statement for the first time in three years, after last year's meeting was canceled by Chile due to political unrest and they failed to agree on a statement in 2018 due to China-U.S. frictions.

APEC groups the TPP members -- Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam -- and China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Russia, the United States, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

The 21 economies cover 37 percent of the global population, 48 percent of the world's trade volume and 60 percent of global gross domestic product.

RCEP groups the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- plus Japan, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.