APEC summit focuses on economic goals - GulfToday

APEC summit focuses on economic goals


APEC flags flutter outside the venue in Bangkok. AFP

It would seem that there is a surfeit of summits in south-east Asia. First there was the Association of South-East Nations (ASEAN) summit in Phnom Penh, the capital of Coambodia, followed by the G20 summit at Bali in Indonesia. On Friday, another summit opened at Bangkok of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

The Bangkok meet is being projected as an economic-focused summit, at least by host Thailand and Thai international relations analysts. The two leaders outside of the APEC radius attending the summit are French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

The Saudi Crown Prince is on an official visit to Thailand and he is attending the APEC summit as a guest.

The 21-member APEC, founded in 1989 as a platform for economic programmes and dialogue, is seen as comprising nation-states but seen as mere economic units. But when leaders of states meet it would be difficult to keep politics out, though the talk has been more about the economy.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha opening the summit said, “We can no longer follow the old way. We must change our perspective and change the way of living and doing business.” And he proposed supporting climate change efforts, pushing for sustainable trade and investment, strengthening environmental conservation, and maximising resource efficiency to achieve zero waste.

Known as “Bangkok Goals”, these are supposed to derive from Thailand’s own model of Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) Economy Model. Says Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok-based Institute of Security and International Studies “This is an economic growth model that is based on sustainability.”

Prof. Pongsudhirak is also clear what needs to be done. He says “We should get APEC to do what it was set out to do, which is to promote trade, investment, especially now in a new era of digital trade.” And he feels that private sector should be more involved in this and that the government should be kept out.

His view of the matter: “We can make a call for the private sector to take charge, because if you leave it to the governments, you can see a lot of contentious issues.” This is of course a Utopian free market view.

The governments have to play the role of facilitators that the private sector can engage in business as usual in a fair manner. Within a country, and between countries, it is only the governments that can ensure a regulatory framework that would let free and fair trade to happen. But APEC holds out hope because the national leaders gathered at the meeting are focused on economic issues and how the various challenges have to be meet to sustain global economic growth.

Though APEC is focused on economic growth but its not confined to the Asia-Pacific region and the 21-member countries. There is the ready recognition that Asia-Pacific economies cannot prosper unless the rest of the world pursue the same goals of environmentally conscious economic development.

That is why, Thai Prime Minister Chan-o-chan said, “We are still under the threat of climate change, which will not only impact the Asia-Pacific region, but also the livelihoods of all humankind. We, therefore, must join hand in hand to alleviate the impacts, and protect our world.” This is not so much a plea to marginalise politics but to put politics in the service of the people across the world.

This is easier said than done but there is no doubt that political power has to be harnessed to achieve the goals of sustainable development and to avoid the catastrophe of climate change. The leaders of the world do seem to understand the urgency of global cooperation but problems of political power come in the way and create almost insuperable obstacles.

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