|APEC Family Photo of Leaders|
APEC's aim was never to be a negotiating forum. Its guiding principle is “concerted unilateralism”, that is, it has no power to force its members to do anything; it merely seeks to inspire good policy by example and co-ordination. This is where APEC's real accomplishment lies within a region not accustomed to working and coordinating together in a similar way to the the EU regional supranationalism integration. Instead APEC has developed many technical committees doing useful work in areas such as trade facilitation. It helps foster habits of consultation and co-operation. And, furthermore, its Leaders’ meetings provide an opportunity for useful and sometimes informal bilateral talks.
Since the Doha round of world-trade talks more or less came to a stand still with almost no hope of moving forward in the foreseeable future, APEC’s ambitions have spread into other areas. This year its motto is “resilient Asia-Pacific: Engine of Global Growth”, and its three main themes are the Bogor goals; improving “connectivity” (infrastructure, harmonising procedures and making it easier for people to travel); and “sustainable growth with equity”.
APEC's core interest has always been trade liberalisation. Twelve of its members (including two of the three biggest economies, the US and Japan, but not China) are pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an ambitious “21st-century” free-trade pact, covering areas such as labour, government procurement, state-owned enterprises, intellectual property and e-commerce, as well as traditional merchandise trade.
Meanwhile, eight TPP members (but not the US), along with four other APEC members (including China) as well as India and three other non-APEC countries are talking about yet another regional trade group, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
The Latin American member economies, Chile, Perú and México are also pursuing the "Alianza del Pacífico" in the hope that a stronger regional alliance will give them more bargaining power in their trade relations with China.
All, this adds up to a very dynamic Asia Pacific region. Hence a possible further grand aim for APEC over the next decade may be to try to co-ordinate these parallel processes, in the hope of bringing them all together in a grand Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific eventually. This is a role that APEC is well prepared for given its twenty or more years of existence across the Asia Pacific region and its technical expertise on trade liberalisation.