The outcomes of the 29th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting
Asia & Pacific

The outcomes of the 29th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting

By Tiziano Marino

On 18 and 19 November, the 29th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit, the forum established in 1989 to promote economic integration in the region, was held in Bangkok. The summit took place against a backdrop of rising international tensions and partially deviated from the Thailand presidency’s agenda and priorities related to sustainability issues and the development of a free trade area in the Asia-Pacific. In this context, the presence of irreconcilable visions among the representatives of the 21 member states, while not preventing the drafting of a common final document, risked derailing the summit from which no relevant results emerged.

Precisely, the first of the two days of discussions in Bangkok was characterised by fears over the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-17 by North Korea. Subsequently, the debate was dominated by the issue of the war in Ukraine mentioned in the final document as a factor of instability on which, however, conflicting views remain. The same considerations had emerged at the G20 in Bali where, like the APEC forum, the presence of countries that remained neutral towards the conflict made it impossible to adopt a clear and coherent document. The recent deterioration of relations between the United States and China could also affect the forum’s modest achievements in regional economic integration. More precisely, adherence to the multi-year plan for developing a free trade area included in the final document remains dependent on the willingness of member states to implement it. Against this background, the pursuit of opposing regional strategies by Beijing and Washington does not seem to herald positive developments.

China, notably, in addition to having applied for access to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), is engaged in the development of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement, which has been operational since last January.

Meanwhile, the United States responded to Chinese activism by launching the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), an initiative that differs from traditional trade agreements in that it does not provide facilitated access to the US market for partner states.

In this competitive environment where regional states are increasingly forced to choose between opposing economic and trade initiatives, it seems unlikely, at least in the short term, to expect significant progress in regional economic integration as conceived by APEC.

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