The 15th APEC leaders’ meeting in Sydney ended over the weekend in the midst of criticism over the lack of concrete agreements.
The centre-piece of the summit, the agreement on tackling climate change was watered down after the leaders failed to reach consensus on the inclusion of quantifiable targets. Instead, the leaders set out an ‘aspirational’ goals of curbing gas emissions and protecting forests.
Both the United States President George Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard wanted both industrialised and developing countries to agree to the same kind of emissions cuts. However, Chinaargued that developed countries should take more responsibility.
Nonetheless, the leaders agreed to reduce energy intensity by 25 per cent by 2030, increase forest cover by 20 million hectares by 2020, and facilitate new technologies put the emphasis on practical measures that will allow the region to continue to grow economically while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The leaders also agreed on the importance of getting an early conclusion of the Doha Round. However, the chairperson of APEC Business Advisory Council, Mark Johnson expressed disappointment over the resolution saying, “As the business leaders, we are highly disappointed with the inability of APEC leaders to give concrete and real result for Doha Round.”
The Bogor Goals made in 1994 for freer trade in 2010 for APEC’s developed members and 2020 for its developing members seem to have been quietly dropped. Instead, the leaders agreed to continue to examine a proposal to create a Pacific-wide free-trade zone that would stretch from Chinato Chile and include all 21 APEC members.
On the issue of membership, the APEC leaders agreed to revisit the issue in 2010, practically keeping the moratorium on expanding membership.
With the seemingly meagre concrete measures taken, questions of the utility of the APEC have been frequently raised in the media. The Australian’s congratulatory stance as indicated in its headlines, ‘historic meeting a diplomatic triumph’ was not shared by most other papers.
Although there is scepticism from the public over the concrete benefits of APEC and other costly multilateral meetings, the leaders have been eager to defend the utility of these meetings. For instance, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said, “It's as good as it gets,” she said of the statement, “considering this is APEC.” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed similar sentiments saying, “Some people ask what has been achieved after all the talking. Talking is not without significance. It can be important as well.”
The Jakarta Post warned that ‘Government officials need to constantly watch out for the public's impatience with slow economic growth, which makes irrelevant our leaders' frequent rhetoric on Indonesia's role on the international stage.’
APEC is also facing competition from other regional organisations such as the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN Plus Three (APT).
The dean of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, Barry Desker wrote a commentary in the Straits Times, suggesting developing APEC to be the key of a strategy to engage both theUnited Statesand China. He urged the negotiation of a FTA within APEC to be led by China and the US. By creating a concert of interests between the US and China, China’s emergence ‘could take place within the framework of a rule-based international system willing to accommodate the emergence of new global powers with shared interests in the maintenance of global peace and stability.’
Datuk Deva M. Ridzam is a former Malaysian ambassador to Cambodia(1991-1996) and to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg(1999-2005) wrote in the New Straits Times, taking a more optimistic view of the EAS compared to APEC which is “more a ‘talk shop.’” He argued that the EAS was ‘becoming the new Asia-Pacific architecture for peace and stability.’ He also proposed that the EAS could deal with issues such as energy, finance, pandemic diseases and national disasters as already identified, while APEC could remain a loose and informal consultative forum for economic co-operation and capacity-building. (10 September 2007)
APEC, for who? (JakartaPost, 10 September 2007)
APEC Ignores the Kyoto Protocol (JakartaPost, 10 September 2007)
APEC Businesses Disappointed with Result of Sydney Summit (Bisnis Indonesia, 10 September 2007)
Arroyo on APEC summit: It's as good as it gets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 10 September 2007)No binding deals, but forum 'builds camaraderie' (Straits Times, 10 September 2007)
Historic Meeting A Diplomatic Triumph(The Australian, 10 September 2007)
APEC leaders pledge political will, flexibility to advance global trade talks(Associated Press, 9 September 2007)
APEC Stresses on Need to Get Doha Round of Trade Talks to an Early End (ChannelNewsAsia, 9 September 2007)
Apec issues watered-down climate accord(Straits Times, 9 September 2007)
Time to break new ground (Straits Times, 7 September 2007)
Reappraising Apec's relevance to East Asia(New Straits Times, 7 September 2007)