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Apec leaders 'committed to free trade, boosting economies'

(From left) South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gathering together at the end of the Apec summit in Vladivostok yesterday. (ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN)

Publication Date : 10-09-2012


But they sound warning at summit about risks to global economic recovery


Leaders from across the Asia-Pacific ended a two-day summit yesterday, reaffirming their commitment to free trade and to strengthening their economies, while issuing a warning about impending risks to the global economy.

With tensions over territorial disputes simmering under the surface, the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders still managed to meet specific targets, backing a cap on tariffs for a list of environmental goods, and committing to improving the transparency of free trade deals and avoiding limits on the trade of food.

And while the summit did not make "earthshaking changes", Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Apec, which represents almost half of world trade, took "useful steps forward".

He praised the commitment to promoting free trade, saying it came amid the euro zone crisis and huge fiscal problems in the United States that have yet to be resolved. "We all know all the countries' governments are under pressure to protect their markets when economic conditions are difficult. And to have a forum like this where there is some peer pressure that all of us should do the right thing collectively, I think, is valuable."

Lee made the observation while wrapping up an eight-day trip that took him first to China for six days, then to Russia's far eastern port city of Vladivostok, accompanied by his wife Ho Ching.

He was speaking to Singapore media on the Far Eastern Federal University campus, where the two-day Apec summit was held.

Apart from attending the Apec meetings, Lee also held a series of bilateral meetings with leaders from the US, the Philippines, Japan and Chile. He also posted on his Facebook page a photograph of him meeting former Taiwanese vice-president Lien Chan, the honorary chairman of Kuomintang, and his wife for tea on the sidelines of the Apec summit.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, he said, expressed interest in developing links with the western side of the Pacific, in particular with Singapore.

During the summit, leaders also discussed separately the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade pact being negotiated that aims to cover the Pacific rim. Started by Chile, Brunei, New Zealand and Singapore, it now has 11 members.

Giving an update, Lee said a deal is "not imminent", although he hopes the issue will be resolved within a reasonable time. "This is quite a complicated exercise; there are... many political sensitivities, and also, this year is the American election year, so I think they cannot settle politically delicate things until a more favourable moment."

Yesterday, Apec leaders issued a joint statement in which they sounded a warning over the global economy. It is facing "downside risks", said the statement, with fragile financial markets and public debt in developed economies "creating strong headwinds to economic recovery globally".

The leaders resolved to work together to support growth, foster financial stability and restore confidence in the global economy.

"We are committed to strengthening domestic demand where appropriate, facilitating job creation, reducing high public deficits and debts, and implementing structural reforms to boost growth in our economies," the seven-page statement said.

The economic grouping, which brings together major players such as the US, China and Japan, also reaffirmed its commitment to moving to market-determined exchange rate systems and avoiding competitive devaluation of currencies or misalignments.

Apart from endorsing a list of 54 "green" goods on which tariffs will be capped at 5 per cent by 2015, they also approved a model guide for achieving transparency in free trade deals, and said they would take steps to improve food security and strengthen the reliability of supply chains.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hosted the event, described it as a great success. The next summit will be in Bali next year, as Indonesia takes over the Apec chairmanship.

"The summit has once again reaffirmed the Apec economies' commitment to the underlying principles of free trade and integration," Mr Putin said at a briefing. "The Asia-Pacific region is a locomotive, a driving force in the world economy."


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