Leaders of 21 Asia-Pacific nations ended their annual summit Sunday with a call to resist protectionism amid signs of increased free-trade skepticism, highlighted by the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election.
The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum also closed with a joint pledge to work toward a sweeping new free trade agreement that would include all 21 members as a path to “sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth,” despite the political climate.
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“We reaffirm our commitment to keep our markets open and to fight against all forms of protectionism,” the leaders of the APEC nations said in a joint statement.
APEC noted the “rising skepticism over trade” amid an uneven recovery since the financial crisis and said that “the benefits of trade and open markets need to be communicated to the wider public more effectively, emphasizing how trade promotes innovation, employment and higher living standards.”
Speaking to journalists at the conclusion of the summit, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said the main obstacle to free trade agreements in Asia and around the world is the frustration felt by those left behind by globalisation.
“Protectionism in reality is a reflection of tough economic conditions,” said Kuczynski, the meeting’s host.
Referring to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Trump’s election win in the US, he said those results highlighted the backlash against globalization in former industrial regions in the US and Britain that contrasts with support for trade in more-prosperous urban areas and developing countries.
“This is an important point in recent economic history because of the outcome of various elections in very important countries that have reflected an anti-trade, anti-openness feeling,” he said.
This was the last international summit for US President Barack Obama and he had been expected to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, a 12-nation trade deal. But he is no longer expected to seek ratification by Congress before he leaves office because of the election victory by Trump, who called the agreement a “disaster” for jobs.
Obama told reporters that the way to address income inequality and to create jobs is through crafting trade policy and agreements like the TPP in ways that will increase exports to the Pacific Rim countries that make up a third of the world’s population.
“When it comes to trade, I believe the answer is not to pull back,” he said at his last overseas news conference. “The answer is to do trade right, making sure it has strong labor standards, strong environmental standards that it addresses ways in which workers and ordinary people can benefit rather than be harmed by global trade.”