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APEC Fails to Issue A Joint Statement for First Time in History

November 19, 2018

Two countries forced the first-ever blockage of a joint communique' following meetings this weekend by member economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation organization.

The APEC World Leaders gathering in Papua New Guinea this past weekend. Photo: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation

The organization, which includes most major political players surrounding both sides of the Pacific, had gathered in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea to discuss how to improve trade between the APEC nations.

Normally such a discussion is straightforward, with much of the issues to be decided already mostly disclosed and agreed upon prior to the in-person meeting of some of the world’s most senior leadership. This time was different, with the bad blood between two parties – the United States and China – dominating the show.

The issue which triggered the arguments was the ever-escalating trade war between the United States and China. In adjacent speeches which only served to raise the anger, the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, first argued the U.S. caused the problems, then Vice-President Mike Pence blamed China for the U.S. even needing to consider trade sanctions. Behind the scenes, there were allegations that China’s delegation had attempted to push APEC officials into issuing a statement of their liking, and that the U.S. had strong-armed others to meet their objectives.

Although details of who favored what among the two giant powers were not discussed openly, one of the two issues which prevented agreement had to do with the World Trade Organization. The U.S., which has said on multiple occasions that it might pull out of the WTO because it feels that organization overly supports the Chinese, was apparently behind that demand. As Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said about the situation, clearly frustrated, “Apec has … no charter over [the] World Trade Organization. That is a fact. That matter can be raised at the World Trade Organization.”

A second issue was disagreement about something the APEC organization does have charter over. That was the matter of its “Bogor Goals”, which require the organization to become a fully free, open-trading organization among its developing economies in just two years from now. One can guess that the U.S., a country very much invested in its “America First!” policies, did not want to support that one either.

With those arguments undermining almost any attempt at decision-making at the meetings, Papua New Guinea President O’Neill said that, instead of issuing a joint communique’ between all parties from the summit, for the first time the organization would be releasing a “chair’s statement” reflecting the issues the members could agree on.

The APEC meeting arguments suggest a very difficult time again for the upcoming G20 summit with more of the world’s senior leaders. It takes place November 30 – December 1, 2018, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.