Apec must press on towards free trade area of the Asia-Pacific, says Chile's president Sebastian Pinera

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera noted that this year, Apec's 30th, saw the grouping make important progress and put people at the centre of its work. PHOTO: APEC

SINGAPORE - Apec has to continue working towards its goal of a free trade area spanning the Pacific Ocean, the outgoing chairman of the regional grouping said on Saturday (Dec 7).

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who had to cancel the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders' meeting last month due to violent street protests in his country, said this in a statement he issued as Apec senior officials met in Singapore to conclude the year.

"International trade is important for productivity, innovation, job creation and development," he said.

"The Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) continues to be an important aspirational goal and Apec should comprehensively pursue FTAAP work that supports trade in the 21st century," he added.

The FTAAP is a long-term goal of Apec, that aims to harmonise regional and bilateral free trade pacts which have proliferated following the collapse of the Doha Round of World Trade Organisation talks.

Apec's 21 economies, which include Singapore, Australia, China, Japan and the United States, account for 40 per cent of the world's population, half of global trade and 60 per cent of global GDP.

Mr Pinera noted that this year, Apec's 30th, saw the grouping make important progress and put people at the centre of its work. Chile also hosted hundreds of meetings, workshops and events.

"Apec has continued to address structural and regulatory obstacles that limit business opportunities at and behind the border," he said, adding it should continue to enable smaller companies and start-ups to go global, take advantage of new digital technologies, and access financing. He also urged Apec to make the most out of the growing digital economy, as half the world's internet users are in the region.

He added: "We must respond more effectively to global challenges as diverse as inequality, climate change, terrorism, and our ageing populations."

Mr Mathias Francke, Apec senior officials chair this year, told reporters on Saturday that discussions had been very good and will go some way to prepare the work for next year's host, Malaysia.

He also addressed previous news reports about the US hosting an Apec summit, saying that the invitation was not proposed formally.

Apec Secretariat executive director Rebecca Sta Maria said Apec had to ensure that everybody, including women and vulnerable groups, is able to fully participate in the economy and benefit to truly achieve inclusive growth.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, who hosted dinner for the senior officials on Friday, said on Facebook that Apec's efforts to grow trade and investment over the years have seen increases in prosperity across a more open, inter-connected region.

"It is important for Apec to stay the course and continue to champion free and open trade and investment, while remaining people-centered and embracing the opportunities of the new trading environment, including the digital economy," he said, adding that Singapore looks forward to working closely with Malaysia, who takes over as Apec host.

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