For the second consecutive year, the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum was dominated by terrorism. The recent attacks against Indonesia and Russia hammered home the fact that no country is safe from this scourge. To their credit, the world leaders, assembling in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, acknowledged the ties between prosperity and security. The two are deeply intertwined: Indeed, there can be no security without shared prosperity. Now, as always, the task is to act upon that common-sense proposition.

APEC leaders were unequivocal in their statements. They condemned “in the strongest terms recent terrorist acts in the APEC region” and reaffirmed “our determination to enhance cooperation in countering and responding to terrorism.” Terrorism is, they declared, “a profound threat to our vision.”

They did not stop with vague promises. The summit declaration outlined concrete steps to protect and expedite the movement of goods, people and information. They include measures to increase cargo security, enhance maritime and aviation safety, and implement a passenger identification and notification system. The declaration also promised to step up efforts to block terrorist financing and enhance cyber-security.

The leaders took up other security issues as well. In a separate statement, they called on North Korea to “visibly honor its commitment to give up nuclear weapons programs.” In a meeting on the sidelines of the main summit, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, U.S. President George W. Bush and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung urged the North to eliminate its weapons program “in a prompt and verifiable manner.” The three leaders agreed that Pyongyang’s relations with the world depended on “North Korea’s prompt and visible actions to dismantle its program to produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.”

Some complain that APEC has been hijacked by terrorists. It is fair to ask whether APEC is drifting too far from its original purpose — nudging member economies toward greater economic cooperation, liberalization and prosperity. The answer is no. The last two meetings were exceptional events. The Shanghai meeting in 2001 came only weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and served as a rallying point for coordinated action against terror. This year, the hostage-taking in Moscow reinforced the message that terrorism is truly a worldwide threat, thus providing an opportunity to realize those earlier promises of cooperation. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark put it plainly: “For economies to prosper and trade to flourish, security is a precondition.” Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo made the same point, from another angle, when she noted that “security impedes prosperity, but at the same time poverty feeds extremists.”

Nevertheless, there are security forums — the ASEAN Regional Forum comes immediately to mind — that are better suited to the security agenda that has dominated APEC discussions. That does not mean APEC is no longer relevant. Rather, it should reinvigorate those governments to take seriously the economic programs that are needed to drain the swamps that breed terrorists. As Ms. Arroyo pointed out, “If we neglect the economic imperative at this time when we are so concerned with terrorism, we would be feeding terrorism by promoting hunger, disease and ignorance.”

Developing-country leaders demanded that their developed counterparts do their part as well. Talk about creating prosperity will remain empty rhetoric until governments in developed economies eliminate trade barriers that protect their inefficient industries — typically those that compete most directly with developing economies. The most damaging policies consist of agricultural subsidies that protect developed world farmers, raise prices to consumers and stunt growth prospects elsewhere.

The best place to realize those demands is the Doha Round of world trade negotiations that is currently under way. There was the ritual nod in the direction of those negotiations, but that is no longer enough. It is hard to imagine what more needs to be done to convince political leaders in the Group of Eight nations that their future is tied to that of the developing world. The willingness to make decisions based on short-term political considerations — witness Japan’s failure to conclude trade agreements with Southeast Asian nations, Mr. Bush’s steel decisions or the European Union’s failure to reform its Common Agricultural Policy — has always had long-term consequences, but never before have they been so visible. The trade-off is becoming more inequitable. APEC — and the Doha Round — give those leaders the chance to rebalance the equation.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.