US wants to be ‘good steward’ of Apec, has invited Russia to participate

Leaders of Apec members meet at an annual summit to discuss economic cooperation. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE – The US intends to be a “good steward” of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum when it chairs the regional grouping in 2023, and has invited its member economies, including Russia, to participate in its activities.

But Mr Matt Murray, the senior US official for Apec, said on Monday that Russia and other participants of Apec meetings will have to abide by US laws in order to be part of the grouping’s meetings and activities.

“We want to be good stewards of Apec. So we’ve invited Russia to participate, just as we have any other economies,” he said.

“We’ve informed our Russian counterparts that we would abide by the rules and regulations in the United States when it came to facilitating their participation.”

Apec is a regional economic forum established in 1989. Its member economies account for close to half of global trade and more than 60 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product. They include seven of the 10 Asean nations, as well as Australia, China, New Zealand, Russia and the US.

Leaders of Apec members meet at an annual summit to discuss economic cooperation, and they mostly take turns to host this meeting, as well as chair the grouping.

At the close of the 2022 summit, held in the Thai capital Bangkok, Apec issued a joint ministerial statement last Friday with a paragraph that condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The US will host Apec in 2023, with the Leaders’ Summit taking place in San Francisco in November.

When asked about the biggest hurdles that the US faces as host, Mr Murray brought up the logistical challenges of organising hotels and convention spaces for the meetings.

“You’re talking about an organisation that has 21 members. So when you get to ministerials, when you get to leaders’ meetings, you’re talking about arranging meetings for 21 fairly high-level officials. I think that’s a massive challenge,” he said.

Mr Murray added that, post-Covid-19, many others are also keen to hold conferences. While this is good for the US and the global economy, it also means that there could be competition for hotels and for event venues to host meetings for Apec.

He also pointed out that the Leaders’ Summit the US will be organising will be the group’s 30th, and that it will need to find the right way to not just lead the discussions but also ensure that Apec is engaging its stakeholders.

The group has a long tradition of strong engagement between the government and the private sector, said Mr Murray, but he added that this can be strengthened and made broader.

“For Apec to be relevant and impactful, it has to be responding to the concerns that our communities and our people have in all of our economies. It can’t just be a talk shop where officials show up and agree to statements and then move on,” he said.

Responding to a question on how the work of Apec would be integrated with the Washington-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), Mr Murray said that they both have some overlapping memberships and a lot of the same objectives.

Thus far, 13 other countries have signed up to the US initiative, which had its first high-level in-person meeting in Los Angeles on Sept 8 and 9. They are: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

IPEF members work to “drill down” into specific commitments they are trying to make, while Apec is a “non-binding organisation” that tries to come to consensus-based solutions and be an “incubator for good ideas”.

“There are some ways that we can be mutually supportive of each other between Apec and IPEF. And so those are the things that we want to definitely work with our partners to try to do,” he said.

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