Leaders stress need to heed global trade rules ahead of Apec meet

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill talks with China's President Xi Jinping during a meeting in Port Moresby, on Nov 16, 2018.
Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill talks with China's President Xi Jinping during a meeting in Port Moresby, on Nov 16, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

Top officials from 21 Asia-Pacific economies have underlined the need to uphold the system of global trade rules that has enabled countries big and small to prosper.

Speaking to business leaders yesterday ahead of this weekend's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Economic Leaders' Meeting, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill noted that smaller economies like his country rely on the multilateral rules-based trading system. "We suffer when rules are broken or ignored, and we benefit when rules are followed by all countries, large and small," he said.

Apec trade and foreign ministers made similar calls when they met on Thursday.

Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman said the regional forum has a critical role to play in supporting and contributing to the multilateral trading system.

He noted that this system has underpinned the Asia-Pacific region's stability and prosperity for decades, but acknowledged that uncertainty over the benefits of free and open trade has led to growing sentiments against globalisation.

"It is important to ensure that our people continue to benefit from economic globalisation," Dr Maliki said in his speech, which was released by Singapore's Foreign Ministry.

"We can achieve this by maintaining the momentum of regional cooperation and adopting the right policies to mitigate the negative impacts," he added, saying growth strategies must ensure all benefit.

 
 
 

"Efforts to enhance SMEs' participation in global trade and equipping workers with the right skills to tap into the digital economy of today are ever more important."

Dr Maliki also put on record Singapore's gratitude to outgoing Apec Secretariat executive director Alan Bollard, and congratulated his successor, Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, who is the former secretary-general of Malaysia's Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

In a separate speech, Dr Maliki said Singapore recognises the importance of strengthening global and regional health cooperation against public health threats such as Sars, tuberculosis and malaria. He outlined the Republic's approach to prevent and respond to health threats - for instance, establishing a national centre for clinical care, surveillance, training and research in infectious diseases.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrived in Port Moresby last night for the Apec summit, accompanied by officials from the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign as well as Trade and Industry ministries.

The meeting comes against the backdrop of a trade war between China and the United States, and Chinese President Xi Jinping and US Vice-President Mike Pence will both deliver closely watched speeches at the Apec CEO summit today.

In his remarks, Mr O'Neill said: "Free trade is vital. Of course, this alone will not deliver the sustained and wider economic development that we aspire."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2018, with the headline 'Leaders stress need to heed global trade rules ahead of Apec meet'. Subscribe