APEC countries are in no hurry to liberalize trade

The principal agenda for the meeting focused around the regional interests of the largest APEC economies. Source: AP

The principal agenda for the meeting focused around the regional interests of the largest APEC economies. Source: AP

Russia forced to balance between China and the U.S.

The 21st conference of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization did not result in anything sensational. Participants at the forum were not as prepared as before to lift key trade restrictions; they agreed only to simplify customs clearance procedures.

The struggle between APEC and a trans-Pacific partnership, which the U.S. is actively pushing for, has still not been removed from the agenda, either.

The final communiqué from the APEC forum, which took place in Indonesia, stated: “The turnover from world trade is slowing down, and global growth remains unstable and is probably more modest and less balanced than expected.”

The heads of government who met in Bali not a year ago resolved that they would not introduce new trade barriers until the end of 2016, would expand regional integration, and would reduce duties on a series of “green” goods by up to 5 percent.

Moreover, the first firm target was put in place to increase the efficiency of shipments between APEC countries, “by cutting expenses in terms of time, finances and other aspects on customs clearance procedures.” It was proposed that, by 2015, these would be cut by 10 percent.

The principal agenda for the meeting, however, focused around the regional interests of the largest APEC economies. The president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, compared notes with the leaders of China, Indonesia and Japan over the course of the two-day summit. He assured them that Russia has “more touch points linked to cooperation with the People’s Republic of China — the key Asian partner — than points of tension.”

Against the backdrop of these assurances, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who stood in for Barack Obama at the summit, campaigned among the regional heads of government for an alternative trade and economic project to APEC — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — whose countries produce around 33 percent of global GDP (the APEC economies produce 55 percent of GDP).

The U.S. is pressing for a conclusion to talks on a free trade zone between participants in the partnership by the end of this year.

Kerry addressed the president of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, noting that “the potential for growth in Asia has caught everyone’s attention.” In this case, Kerry said that China would only be supporting “an organization that would be beneficial to all participants in this process.”

In China, however, a pro-American partnership is regarded exclusively as a new direction to advance the economic interests of the United States, without considering the needs of developing countries.

Meanwhile, China and Indonesia actively developed their own new trade initiative within the confines of the summit of Asian leaders; neither Russia nor the U.S. is included in the 16 participating countries.

Incidentally, economics was not the only thing under discussion in Bali. Vladimir Putin held a number of meetings at the summit, including with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. They discussed the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, as well as further work to control the crisis.

“We have a mutual understanding on what we need to do and how we need to do it. I am very glad that President Obama has taken this stance,” said the Russian president at the closing press conference.

In response to a question on whether there has been any progress on breaking the deadlock in Russian-American relations, Putin said: “There was no deadlock. As far as Syria is concerned, we did have our disagreements.”

He emphasized that these disagreements were “first and foremost of a tactical nature.” Kerry said, “There was a difference, and this remains partly a means to an end. However, as you can see, there is real progress.”

The Russian side gave voice to expanding the participants in the international Geneva-2 conference to include Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country.

Over the course of the summit, the Russian leader also met the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. Putin announced that a peace treaty might be signed with Japan. On a practical level, this is work that has already begun, as the Russian foreign minister and defense minister are expected to visit Japan in November.

Based on material from Kommersant and RIA Novosti.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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