APEC: The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation explained

APEC economies are meeting on Friday in Vietnam and there's some noteworthy pairings happening between US President Trump and Southeast Asian leaders. Here's everything you need to know going in to the meetings

Madeleine Keck
November 9, 2017
APEC: The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation explained
The Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Vietnam 2017 summit will bring together world leaders from 21 member nations. Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

Vietnam will be playing host to 21 Pacific-Rim member economies this week for the second time since the founding of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 1989.

‘Creating new dynamism, fostering a shared future’ is the theme for this year’s summit and will see leaders from APEC’s member economies squaring off in some rarely seen pairings to discuss trade and economic development in the Asia-Pacific region.

The main event, Leaders Week, runs from November 10-11 and will feature match ups between big players such as US President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jingping and Russian President Vladimir Putin among others.

Here’s everything you need to know about APEC to help guide you as the events unfold throughout the next week.  

Why was APEC created?

In 1989, after a mounting interdependence was seen within Asia-Pacific economies, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation was founded to provide more effective economic cooperation between the region’s economies.

Since then, APEC trade officials, ministers and economic leaders from member economies have met every year to strategize and enhance the stakes for discussions on how to advance international economic integration to political levels.

Important numbers:

  • There are 21 APEC economies
  • They represent 2.8 billion people
  • Combined, they account for 60% of global GDP…
  • And 48% of global trade

Who will be attending?

This year, all 21 APEC economies will be attending the summit in Đà Nẵng, Vietnam. This includes, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, United States, Vietnam, and New Zealand.

What will be discussed?

There are four core functions of what is meant to be discussed at these meetings, which include sustainable growth, regional economic integration, strengthening competitiveness, and climate change adaptations, though this is usually just a guideline. What is likely to be a more pressing matter for these Pacific-Rim economies will be the heightened interest in the outcome of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade plan that was slightly derailed after President Trump pulled the US out in January shortly after being elected.

Other anticipated topics that could be raised range from enhancing food security to conflicts in the South China Sea, although representatives from China and Vietnam have said they will continue to discuss the ongoing territorial clash through what they describe as ‘friendly consultations’.

What makes this year special?

The big thing to be on the lookout for at this year’s summit will be US President Trump, who is attending the summit for the first time and will be arriving with the lowest approval ratings a US president has faced in seven decades. This meeting will prove to be a valuable moment for his administration, as they can try and relieve some of the apprehensions that Southeast Asia, and other member countries, have with Trump’s strategy in Asia. Treaties, democracy, human rights, multilateralism and economic policy are all hot bed topics that the world will be waiting for Trump to mention.

Aside from the regularly scheduled meetings, APEC is also an opportunity for leaders to meet in more private settings to discuss matters on their own agenda. In particular – as this year’s summit falls during a period where the region is filled with fears over nuclear-armed North Korea – President Trump is expected to meet privately with Russian President Putin, with the key focus being how to restrain threats posed by North Korea.

This will also be South Korean President Moon Jae In, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arderns’ first time attending.

What are the key events?

The 2017 APEC Summit will be comprised of nearly 200 events, but the main event, which is attended by all of the presidents and prime ministers of the 21 member economies, will begin on November 10.

Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang will lead three events and will also deliver the opening speech at the APEC Leaders’ Summit on November 10.
US President Donald Trump is also scheduled to speak at the Leaders’ Summit. And Japan’s President Shinzo Abe and China’s Xi Jinping are set to deliver speeches on Friday, while Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will speak on Thursday.

It is worth mentioning that APEC is fundamentally a discussion group on how to advance international economic integration, and it does not have express implementation mechanisms for member’s suggestions. Instead, members use this opportunity at the summit to increase the emphasis on issues that can later be discussed at other enforcement institutions.

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