APEC’s goal is faster, stable growth

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APEC’s goal is faster, stable growth

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HANOI ― Nguyen Phuong Loan is a 25-year-old Vietnamese woman, living in a communist country, yet embracing the capitalist spirit. She thinks that her country should be more open to capitalist ideas, so she had two things to celebrate recently ― her country’s admission to the World Trade Organization and its hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.
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Working as a volunteer for the annual regional gathering, she described the recent developments in her country as “very pleasing news.” Asked why, specifically, she smiled and said, “This will all make imported Honda motorbikes much cheaper.” And that is exactly what APEC is promoting: It defines itself as a “forum for facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment” in the region, according to its Web site. This year’s gathering was aimed “towards a dynamic community for sustainable development and prosperity.”
On top of this economic goal, the meeting is also an important opportunity for the political leaders of Asia-Pacific nations to meet for separate discussions. On the sidelines of the gathering, the leaders schedule bilateral or multilateral meetings.
The concept of the “Pacific Rim” provides a convenient package for countries in the American and Asian continents that are physically apart. The members include traditional world powers like the United States, China and Russia. India has requested entry into the gathering, which would add more weight to the meeting. Currently, the members account for 56.4 percent of the world’s total Gross Domestic Product, 46.8 percent of the world’s land mass and 46.3 percent of the world’s trade volume, as of last year.
Founded in 1989 in Canberra, Australia, the annual meeting has 21 members in the Pacific Rim region. It prefers to call them “member-economies” instead of countries, a way that allows inclusion of Hong Kong and Taiwan, which China considers its provinces. When APEC was launched, it had 12 members and focused on ministerial meetings. In 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton suggested elevation of the forum’s status to include summit-style political meetings every year.
The gathering, best known by its acronym, APEC, starts with ministerial meetings and concludes with a leaders’ meeting, which is usually two days long. There are 15 ministerial sessions on economy and trade, and senior officials’ meetings before and during the APEC sessions. The APEC secretariat is based in Singapore, and there are four separate committees covering economy, trade, budget and technology.
The highlight of the annual forum is the leaders meeting that wraps up the event. Leaders have two joint gatherings, called retreats, where they take turns to express their concerns and ideas on APEC-related issues. Leaders also have a discussion session with the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) and a gala dinner hosted by the chair country.
Particularly in times like the present, when the world has to deal with reclusive North Korea after its Oct. 9 nuclear test, the APEC meeting offers a prime vehicle to send an orchestrated message from the region’s leaders. To make the most of the chance to make their voices heard, the leaders have a flurry of separate and multilateral meetings with their counterparts. President Roh Moo-hyun, for example, had bilateral meetings with his counterparts from the United States, China, Russia, Japan, Canada and Vietnam, along with a three-way meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Concluding the gathering, this year’s chairman, Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, made a statement pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.
As there are 21 leaders at the gathering, the protocol issues are of great interest. Leaders are scheduled to arrive at the joint meetings in alphabetical order. The schedule is meticulously timed for the leaders to arrive at one-minute intervals. As leaders emerge from their cars, the leader of the year’s chairing country waits to welcome them, shakes hands and poses for photographs. Everything needs to be orchestrated so as to keep the leaders arriving in a smooth schedule, and security is at its highest.
One mystery, however, that still remains unsolved is why the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, arrived late last year for the APEC meeting held at Busan, South Korea. Some speculated that, believe it or not, Mr. Putin intentionally moved slowly so as to arrive last and get more attention.
The chair-country also provides cars used by the visiting leaders, and this year Vietnam used a fleet from Mercedes-Benz.
Last year, Korea offered Hyundai’s black sedan, Equus, but the United States and Russia insisted on bringing their own cars, taking issue with security. So the U.S. president, George W. Bush, glided into the meeting in his Cadillac and President Putin in his Mercedes-Benz.
APEC means a chance for the chair country to showcase its history, heritage and achievements.
Leaders are offered samplings of the country’s traditional cuisine and cultural performances at the gala dinner. Spouses are given tours around selected tourist attractions. The pictorial highlight of the event is the photograph session of the 21 leaders dressed in the host-country’s traditional costume. Vietnam provided each leader an “Ao Dai,” a long gown worn by royals in the past, and female leaders were also given “khan dong,” a royal headdress. The photograph of leaders dressed up in the host-country’s traditional outfit has been a signature APEC image since 1989.
Leaders also adopt a joint declaration at the conclusion of the annual gathering. This year’s “Hanoi Declaration” remained true to the APEC spirit of economics and trade liberalization. The declaration supported the Doha Development Agenda for multilateral trade negotiations, stating that it remains APEC’s “top priority” to promote free trade in the region. Those negotiations have experienced rough going since 2001.
The statement also promoted the Bogor Goals, which the APEC members agreed in their 1994 gathering in Bogor city in Indonesia. The Bogor Goals set a timeline for advanced countries to achieve the agreed level of trade liberalization by 2010 and developing countries by 2020. In support of the Bogor Goals, APEC leaders agreed on the Busan Roadmap last year and the Hanoi Action Plan, stating measures and initiatives for free and open trade. In the same context, the statement also refers to the effort to draft “model measures” to promote regional trade agreements and free-trade negotiations among the members.
One vulnerable point of the APEC forum is that such statements are not legally binding, since it is not based on an international treaty. This may explain the slow progress in achieving APEC’s goals.
Separately, the way APEC is operated has become an issue as well. There’s talk of establishing a secretary-general post, as part of an effort to reform the gathering and make it more efficient. Vietnam’s state-run news agency said that APEC senior officials agreed on the reform “to strengthen resources for the APEC Secretariat, to increase the association and the efficiency of APEC’s process and to map out a clear agenda for APEC to reflect its priorities.”
Next year’s APEC meeting takes place in September in Sydney, Australia, followed by Lima, Peru in 2009 and Japan in 2010.


by Chun Su-jin
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