FROM a public relations standpoint, the APEC summit in Manila this week has been a complete nightmare, only salvaged a little by the unexpected and amusing enthusiasm the Philippine public – primarily its female component – has shown for the ridiculously photogenic President of Mexico and Prime Minister of Canada. There is, however, more to APEC than meets the eye.
It is unfortunate that the Aquino Administration’s hamfisted management of the meetings has dominated the local and even international news (the homeless story has been the only APEC story of any significance so far carried by The New York Times, for instance), because there is actual work being done at the APEC summit.
What have so far been obvious to the public are, first, the nightmarish traffic the Manila event has created; second, what some people, not without good reason, are calling a gross human rights violation in arbitrarily locking up several thousand homeless people to keep them out of sight; and third, President Aquino’s simpering, self-indulgent blaming of his predecessor for all the country’s ills in his keynote speech.
Having been forced to abort an attempt to reach my office for the second day in a row (after a Monday commute that made Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow look like a cake walk), I would like to focus on something positive for a change, and take a look at what this year’s APEC meeting is actually accomplishing.
So far, the biggest thing to come out of the discussions is the Joint Ministerial Statement from the APEC Ministerial Meeting (i.e., a meeting of member nations’ trade, economic, and foreign affairs ministers) held on Monday and Tuesday. While almost all of the contents of the voluminous statement—25 pages in length, plus a couple of extensive annexes—are initiatives that have been hammered out in smaller working groups throughout the year and are thus, not really “results” of this week’s meeting, gathering them all together into a single roadmap and adopting them at the ministerial level turns them into official APEC policy, a plan that the 21 member nations will presumably strive to follow over the next few years.
The Ministerial Statement identifies four overarching priorities for APEC, each of which comprises a number of specific initiatives. A detailed explanation of the whole thing would obviously not fit in this space, but in the interest of giving a public who is feeling more than a little persecuted by the event so far some sense of value from it, here is a brief summary of the highlights of the statement:
Priority 1: Enhancing the Regional Economic Integration Agenda—The statement gives strong backing for the China-led Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), noting the progress in background work done so far, and setting a target of the end of 2016 to produce a comprehensive draft of senior officials’ recommendations.
Somewhat surprisingly, the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which has recently been completed and has moved on to the ratification stage, is not mentioned at all in the APEC Ministerial Statement, something that is sure to cause some consternation for US President Barack Obama, the TPP’s biggest booster.
Priority 2: Fostering MSMEs’ Participation in Regional and Global Markets— This initiative, which is mainly the product of lower-level APEC meetings in Boracay earlier this year, is the least detailed of the four initiatives. The likely reason for this is that among the various priorities, support for small businesses is the one that relies most heavily on local action, such as implementation of the “principles of good regulatory practices” adopted in the 2014 round of APEC meetings.
Priority 3: Investing in Human Capital Development— This priority is broken down into the broad topic areas of education, skills development, health care, and improving opportunities for women. Two initiatives in particular—development of an APEC labor market clearing house, and facilitating greater educational exchange—would be of great value to the Philippines if they can be accomplished.
Priority 4: Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities— This part of the statement deals with climate change mitigation and disaster preparedness and response. There are several key policy statements offered here: An expression of support for nuclear energy development; a call for the phasing out of fossil fuel-based energy subsidies; a commitment to adhere to climate targets—whatever they may be—that are adopted at the upcoming COP21 climate talks in Paris; and support of efforts to double the share of renewable energy throughout APEC from its 2010 level by 2030.
Crafting noble statements is, of course, the easy part; how well these aspirations translate into actual progress at ground level is another matter entirely. Because APEC operates entirely on consensus—although there are expressions of sentiment regarding strengthening APEC as an institution, it does not and will probably never have any sort of legal enforcement mechanisms—the success or failure of the initiatives developed depends entirely on the capacity and willingness of member nations to carry them out.