APEC leaders vow to use 'all available tools' to fight coronavirus

Kyodo News

Posted at Nov 20 2020 10:50 PM | Updated as of Nov 21 2020 03:34 AM

Screens show New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking during the virtual APEC CEO Dialogues 2020, at its command center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on November 20, 2020. Malaysia Information Department/Fandy Azlan/Handout via Reuters

TOKYO (UPDATE) - Leaders of 21 Pacific Rim economies vowed Friday to use "all available policy tools" to fight the coronavirus pandemic as they issued their first joint declaration in three years following a virtual summit.

"We will continue to work together to use all available policy tools to support an inclusive, effective and sustained response to COVID-19," the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum said in the declaration issued after the summit.

The leaders affirmed that COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is "one of the most challenging health and economic crises of our times."

The declaration was the first since 2017 as mounting tensions between the United States and China prevented agreement on a document in 2018 and last year's meeting was canceled due to political unrest in host Chile.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga participated in the APEC summit along with U.S. President Donald Trump, who made his first appearance on the global stage since losing the presidential election earlier this month.

"Promotion of free trade and investment and increased connectivity based on international rules will support a free and open Indo-Pacific," Suga said during the summit hosted by Malaysia, according to a Japanese government official.

The leaders pledged to "facilitate the movement of essential goods and services, as well as the essential movement of people in a safe manner," and said they would support ongoing efforts to reform the World Trade Organization.

The leaders also adopted the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040, which replaced the 1994 Bogor Goals in setting the forum's objectives for promoting free trade and regional connectivity in the aftermath of a pandemic that has claimed more than a million lives and upended the global economy.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has had a lasting impact on the way we view trade and economic priorities within APEC," Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said in his opening remarks.

"We need to trade and invest our way out of the current economic downturn. We must come together and work constructively towards navigating the region along a path of robust, inclusive and sustainable economic recovery and growth," he said.

The summit was held days after 15 Asia-Pacific countries including Japan, China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations signed a landmark deal to create the world's biggest free trade bloc, facilitating the flow of goods and services and lowering barriers to investment.

Speaking at Friday's summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the world's second-largest economy will "positively consider" joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

The CPTPP is an 11-member free trade agreement that entered into force after Trump withdrew the United States from what was originally the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017.

Trump participated in the summit for the first time since 2017, having sent Vice President Mike Pence in his place in 2018. The president had kept a low profile following his election loss to Joe Biden, last week skipping a regional conference involving ASEAN.

Founded in 1989, APEC is a platform for discussions on free trade and economic cooperation by Pacific Rim countries covering 37 percent of the global population, 48 percent of the world's trade volume and 60 percent of global gross domestic product.

The group consists of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

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