Apec leaders pledge to strengthen rules-based multilateral trading system, condemn war in Ukraine

US Vice-President Kamala Harris and Prime Minister of Thailand Prayut Chan-o-cha hold Chalom, a bamboo basket symbolising the baton. The US is the next host of the Apec summit. PHOTO: REUTERS
Ukrainian troops riding through the Kherson region on Nov 18. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum vowed on Saturday to strengthen a rules-based multilateral trading system and pursue inclusive growth. Most also condemned the Ukraine war.

The joint declaration issued at the Apec Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Bangkok came despite disagreements over the Russian invasion of Ukraine and lays the groundwork for wider collaboration in the push for a sustainable post-pandemic recovery.

It came one day after a joint Apec ministerial statement that reflected members’ concerns over the economic fallout of the war.

Both documents stated: “Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy – constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening energy and food insecurity, and elevating financial stability risks.

“There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions.”

The joint leaders’ statement added: “Recognising that Apec is not the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.”

The wording of these two documents echoed those used in a joint statement issued at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Bali, which ended on Nov 15.

Thailand, which is hosting the Apec summit and leading discussions, had credited the G-20 document for creating “momentum” to conclude the joint Apec ministerial statement.

Disagreements over the war have spilled over into previous economy-focused multilateral forums, making routine joint statements almost impossible to conclude.

The 21 member economies of Apec include China, the United States, Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia, and the grouping accounts for about half of world trade.

During an Apec meeting in May, trade representatives of five countries walked out of the room in protest over the war when their Russian counterpart was speaking. There was no joint statement from the meeting.

The global post-pandemic recovery has also been threatened by inflation and supply-chain disruptions exacerbated by the war, so it continues to preoccupy discussions at these forums.

At the Bangkok summit on Saturday, Apec leaders reaffirmed their commitment to an open and interconnected Asia-Pacific region.

They also endorsed a model for sustainable and inclusive economic recovery called the Bangkok Goals on BCG (Bio-Circular-Green) Economy.

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