Dreaming of the Asia Pacific

“APEC blue” they called it – not, for once, a sense of disappointment about opportunities not taken, but rather the deep blue sky that provided the perfect backdrop for the pronouncements of this year’s meeting of APEC Economic Leaders.  Helped by the closure of factories, six days holiday for government workers and strict rostering of car usage, China’s leadership ensured their guests had an overwhelmingly positive experience of the stay in this great Asian capital.

China’s leadership of APEC exceeded expectations on several fronts.  Of course we expected the self-confident portrayal of Chinese power, which was well illustrated by President Xi Jinping’s strictly choreographed welcome of 21 Economic Leaders – plus several other Asian non-APEC members.  President Xi was keen to showcase Chinese development and to demonstrate progress towards the Chinese dream.  But beyond this there was substance also in the announcement of the decision of a “collective strategic study” of the dimensions of the future Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), release of a new APEC Blueprint on Connectivity, as well as a range of other deliverables including a new understanding between the United States and China on climate change and tepid rapprochement between Japan and China.

On TPP there was little sign of real movement forward – yet more meetings at Ministerial level, and an agreement amongst TPP Leaders to get the deal done but no specifics on when.

There were business leaders aplenty at the APEC CEO Summit – 1300 of them, including a contingent of New Zealanders, 23 strong.   The APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) met as usual and gave their annual advice to Leaders on the need for free trade, investment in infrastructure, progress on supply chain connectivity, support for SMEs and financial sector reforms.  Business leaders were well entertained by their Chinese hosts and a number of important contacts were made.

APEC often gets a bad press for achieving little beyond a flowery shirt parade (that happened too).  There is more to this Summitry than photo shoots.  APEC is part of the habit of regional economic co-operation, which sees important ideas come forward that can ultimately be translated into government decision making.  It pays to dream now and then, especially under a clear blue sky.

This post was written by Stephen Jacobi, Executive Director of the NZ International Business Forum (www.nzibf.co.nz) who attended APEC in Beijing as Alternate Member of the APEC Business Advisory Council.