KUALA LUMPUR, Nov. 18 (Xinhua) -- When the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) members hold a visual leaders' meeting on Friday, high on the agenda will be seeking an economic recovery for the Asia-Pacific region from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as launching a new vision to guide the direction of the region in the coming decades.
Ahead of the meeting, the hopes are high that the leaders would uphold multilateralism, coordinate efforts for recovery and lay down a long-term vision for sustainable growth by continuing championing free and open trade and investment.
POST PANDEMIC RECOVERY
As the COVID-19 pandemic rattles the world, it also brought significant impact to the Asia-Pacific region.
APEC's GDP contracted by 3.7 percent in the first six months of 2020 and is expected to contract by 2.5 percent for the whole year, or equal to an output loss of 1.8 trillion U.S. dollars, according to APEC Policy Support Unit.
The response by APEC economies in mitigating the health and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be one of the major topics of the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, said Hairil Yahri Yaacob, a senior official of Malaysia's International Trade and Industry Ministry who chaired APEC senior officials meetings this year.
Since the outbreak, Malaysia as the host of the APEC meetings this year, has added the word "resilient" to the theme for the year as "Optimizing Human Potential Towards a Resilient Future of Shared Prosperity," as it would represent the post-COVID-19 recovery for the region, Hairil told a recent media briefing.
Malaysia has hosted a number of virtual ministerial and other level meetings since July to provide platforms for APEC economies to coordinate on COVID-19 responses, he said.
"We are really looking forward to the APEC leaders to get together and basically cooperate and collaborate and come up with key solutions of how to lay the ground work for further economic recovery," said Rohana Mahmood, chair of APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC).
APEC economies should cooperate in areas like the reopening of borders, the stabilization of supply chain, while providing support for micro, small and medium enterprises, which make up the backbone of the region's economy, said Rohana.
"So I think there are lots of issues put before them, and some of the issues that they will be agreeing on," she said.
During the meeting on Friday, leaders are also expected to adopt a Post-2020 Vision which would replace the Bogor Goals and serve as the primary reference point for the region for the years to come.
One of APEC's flagship initiatives, the Bogor Goals were announced in 1994 for members to move towards the long-term goal of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific no later than the year 2020.
According to APEC Policy Support Unit, trade liberalization has progressed significantly in the APEC region during the implementation of Bogor Goals, with falling tariff level.
However, trade liberalization itself has been uneven with agricultural tariff continue to be much higher than non-agriculture tariff, while non-tariff measures continue to be highly prevalent in the region, especially in recent years.
In its annual report, ABAC called on APEC leaders to adopt a Post-2020 Vision which ensures free and open trade and investment. The vision should also enable APEC's central role in sustainable and inclusive growth with the goal to achieve a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).
Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry Mohamed Azmin Ali told APEC Ministerial Meeting on Monday that his country has been leading the effort in drawing up the Post-2020 Vision, a document that "envisions an open, dynamic and resilient Asia-Pacific community built upon shared prosperity."
CALL FOR MULTILATERALISM
On top of the two key topics, officials and experts hoped APEC leaders would send out a clear message on their commitment to multilateralism and international cooperation, which proved to be essential against the pandemic and for a sustainable economic recovery.
"These are unprecedented times, demanding bold responses," Rohana told the annual ABAC meeting on Tuesday. "These challenges demand cooperation, coordination and collaboration. We are strongest when we act together."
Herizal Hazri, chief executive of Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, pointed out that it is time for APEC to be transitioning to a low-carbon economy and focusing on more sustainable and inclusive development.
"The pandemic has given us this sense of urgency: what we do now must be able to have immediate impact as well as create a more resilient and sustainable future economies," he told Xinhua in an interview.
According to APEC Policy Support Unit, there are already signs of recovery around the APEC region, especially coming from economies that were able to curb the spread of the virus early on and have reopened their economies, as well as improved manufacturing activities.
As China has managed to achieve an economic recovery after containing the outbreak early, many are looking forward to China playing a key role in the region's economic recovery.
"No doubt that China will play a very prominent role in the upcoming APEC meeting. With positive economic growth where other APEC economies are contracting... China is indeed in center stage," said Azmi Hassan from University of Technology Malaysia. Enditem