NUSA DUA, INDONESIA – The trade and foreign ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on Saturday jointly called for the region’s further economic integration as talks on key free trade deals continued on the Indonesian island of Bali.
“We reaffirm our commitment to achieve a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, including by continuing APEC’s work to provide leadership and intellectual input into the process of regional economic integration,” said a joint statement adopted at the end of their two-day ministerial meeting.
“We agreed to enhance communication among RTAs/FTAs, as well as increase the capacity of APEC economies to engage in substantive negotiations,” it said, referring to regional and free trade agreements.
The statement, however, did not mention the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks under way on the sidelines of the APEC gathering among 12 Pacific Rim countries, including Japan. It also failed to cite the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations launched earlier this year by 16 economies.
A statement issued in April by ministers of the 21 APEC members referred to both frameworks and called for information sharing on regional free trade frameworks.
The adoption of the latest ministerial statement came a day after U.S. President Barack Obama told Indonesia he would not be visiting the country for this week’s APEC and TPP summits. The absence of the leader of the world’s largest economy could affect the unity of the APEC summit and see some of the momentum slip on concluding the TPP negotiations on schedule.
The 12 TPP countries, who are all also members of APEC, have held a series of meetings since Tuesday in Bali, aiming to conclude a deal within the year to create a free trade zone that would account for a third of global trade.
In the statement, the APEC ministers also said they remain committed to refraining from new trade and investment barriers, stressing, “We recommended that our leaders extend through the end of 2016 our standstill commitment to fight against protectionist measures and our resolve to roll back protectionist and trade distorting measures.”
The statement reiterated APEC members’ commitment to achieving the Bogor Goals to free up trade and investment in the region by 2020 while voicing support for a multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization. It urged countries to make a success of the ninth WTO ministerial conference to be held in December, also in Bali.
The WTO stalemate has given rise to a wave of movements seeking regional free trade pacts among Asia-Pacific nations, including the TPP and RCEP frameworks, both of which involve many APEC economies.
Among the various issues covered during the APEC meeting, the ministers discussed ways to empower women, enhance the competitiveness of small and midsize enterprises, and improve supply chain performance.