HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – The annual summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum kicked off virtually on Friday in Kuala Lumpur, with United States’ President Donald Trump making a return to the international scene by participating in the meet despite his loss in the recent presidential elections.
In the inaugural address, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyuddin Yassin said that the first and foremost priority of the bloc – which groups together 21 economies of the region – was to support and commit to the system of multilateral trade.
The meeting has been marked by the rivalry between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump, who differed from the other leaders speaking via video-conferencing by appearing without the official background of this year’s summit.
Yassin highlighted the importance of an economic recovery after the downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has strongly affected the attitude towards trade and economic priorities within APEC.
“The health risks and its impact on the global economic ecosystem has been the major priority agenda for all APEC economies this year,” he said.
The Malaysian PM said that the members had to find the “fine balance” between health priorities and economic necessities, and highlighted the importance of boosting the digital economy in order to create more jobs and ensure an inclusive economy.
Yassin’s speech was followed by similar online interventions by other leaders,.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said Beijing was “actively considering” joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a free trade agreement signed by 11 members of APEC.
“We need to improve economic governance and foster an open, fair, equitable and non-discriminatory environment for businesses,” said the Chinese president, who made a strong pitch for multilateralism and open markets.
China had on Sunday signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the world’s biggest free trade agreement, which includes Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
APEC said in a statement that the national leaders are expected to sign a declaration highlighting the work carried out by the bloc during the past year and reaching a consensus about free trade, investments, response to the pandemic, ease of doing business and digitalization.
If approved, this would be the first APEC joint declaration in three years, as last year’s summit in Chile had to be canceled due to anti-government protests, while the 2018 meet in Papua New Guinea witnessed major disagreements between China and the US, which led to the declaration not being issued for the first time in the forum’s history.
APEC, founded in 1989, consists of 21 member countries and accounts for nearly 60% of the global GDP as well as more than half of global trade.
It forms a market of 2.85 billion consumers – around 40% of the world’s population – and aims to establish a free trade zone among member economies by 2020.
APEC is made up of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, South Korea, the United States, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.