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APEC pledges to boost trade as geopolitical rifts hijack regional summits

BANGKOK: Leaders of the 21-member APEC bloc pledged on Saturday (Nov 19) to boost trade and do more to tackle other economic challenges, wrapping up the last of three summits in the region in a week that have been overshadowed by intense geopolitical rivalry.

The summits have been attended by global leaders, and the talks have often been disrupted by friction spilling over from the war in Ukraine as well as flashpoints such as the Taiwan strait and the Korean peninsula.

A Southeast Asian summit that included China, Japan and the United States was held in Cambodia, while the Group of 20 (G20) major economies met on the Indonesian island of Bali.

The opening of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting was interrupted on Friday when Vice President Kamala Harris, who is heading the US delegation, called an emergency gathering of allies on the sidelines to condemn North Korea after it test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.

On Saturday, Thai Prime Minister and APEC chair Prayut Chan-o-cha sought to bring the focus back to economic issues and said APEC made “significant progress” by agreeing to a multi-year work plan for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

An APEC leaders’ declaration said the group would uphold and further strengthen a rules-based multilateral trading system, but also recognised more intensive efforts were needed to address challenges like rising inflation, food security, climate change and natural disasters.

“This year, we have also witnessed the war in Ukraine further adversely impact the global economy,” said the declaration.

“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy,” it added.

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