Malaysia wants trade to benefit all at APEC 2020

The PM calls on APEC members to realign their focus and band together against inherent issues that are shared between nations

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

MALAYSIA officially returned as chairman of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) 2020 in a historic ceremony yesterday, marking the second time in 22 years that the country is hosting the forum.

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was also at the helm when Malaysia first played host in 1998, said trade talks can no longer be limited to market access, but must be more inclusive and involve all segments of the population.

(From left) Darell, Dr Mahathir and Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Dr Ong Kian Ming at the APEC 2020 official launch yesterday

Amid the escalating US-China tensions and rising protectionist policies, Dr Mahathir called on APEC members to realign their focus and band together against inherent issues such as high living costs, unemployment and low wages that are shared between nations.

“To my mind, it is time that member economies consider embracing this philosophy and embed it in the current economic model. Improving the overall wellbeing of our people and enabling every citizen to have a more decent living standard will make APEC sustainable and relevant as a grouping in the long run.

“In other words, trade and investment narratives will move beyond the creation of wealth, jobs and development into ensuring societal wellbeing as well,” Dr Mahathir said at the launch of APEC 2020 in Cyberjaya yesterday.

Tit-for-tat tariffs between two of the world’s largest economies have forced both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to lower their global growth forecasts in June.

The World Bank estimated the global economy to expand by only 2.6% this year, while the IMF warned that the ongoing trade war could wipe US$455 billion (RM1.9 trillion) off the world’s GDP in 2020. Both the US and China are members of APEC, which commands 60% of global GDP and almost 50% of global trade.

Putrajaya’s hope of seeing the first phase of a US-China trade deal signed at APEC 2020 was thrown into uncertainty after US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that a deal with Beijing may have to wait until after the 2020 US election.

The two countries were scheduled to sign an interim trade deal during the Nov 16-17 APEC summit in Chile. Chilean officials, however, cancelled the summit amid anti-government protests in the country.

Malaysia said it understood the challenges faced by the government of Chile and hoped that the situation in Chile will return to normalcy soon.

Upon the cancellation of the APEC Leaders’ Meeting in October, the US made a proposal to hold a substitute meeting in January to which all member countries disagreed, Dr Mahathir said.

“In furthering Chile’s commendable work, I invite all the APEC Economic Leaders to Malaysia in November 2020 to discuss the issues that matter to the resilience of APEC, the resilience of trade and investment, and the resilience of our economic wellbeing.

“The Post-2020 Vision for APEC, which we will launch next year, would chart the future direction of APEC towards ensuring its continued relevance under a more inclusive approach,” he added.

This vision will be built on the Bogor Goals, as well as to add value and complement the work of APEC over the past 30 years and preserve its status as a premier economic forum for years to come.

“More importantly, Malaysia would like to see the concept of shared prosperity driving the vision and the philosophy cascades to every work that APEC undertakes, moving forward beyond the Bogor Goals,” Dr Mahathir said.

The Bogor Goals, signed in 1994, aimed to establish free and open trade in the region by further reducing barriers and promoting the free flow of goods, services and capital among APEC economies. The deadline to achieve the targets was set for 2020.

International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Darell Leiking expects APEC 2020 to bring in 16,000 delegates to Malaysia next year, with over 120 meetings scheduled in five cities across the country.