HÀNỘI— Trade ministers from the 21 Pacific Rim countries gathered during a major trade meeting on Saturday in Hànội to discuss future plans for regional trade co-operation amid growing fears of protectionism, as well as changes in politics, economies and technology.
As one of APEC’s most prominent ministerial gatherings, the 23rd Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT23) kicked off in the presence of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc.
In his opening remarks, PM Phúc highlighted APEC’s three decades of growth and endorsed its important role as the economic driver and growth engine of the Asia-Pacific region and the world.
With a combined population of over 2.8 billion people, about 40 percent of the world population, APEC member economies have significantly expanded and account for roughly 60 percent of the world GDP and 49 percent of global trade.
Of note, the average regional tariff has been reduced from 17 per cent since its inception in 1989 to 5.5 percent in 2016, as incomes and living standards have been improved for a large proportion of the region’s population.
“These outcomes have provided testament to the efforts of the region for trade liberalisation, trade and investment facilitation, as well as shared regional stability, development and prosperity,” PM Phúc said.
He also raised concerns over multiple evolutions in politics, economies and technology, especially the fourth industrial revolution and the emergence of the digital economy, which have brought substantial economic, cultural and social changes.
APEC is aiming for a truly connected Asia-Pacific, in terms of its people, infrastructure, technology and information, in order to expand economic growth, trade and investment and oversee comprehensive institutional reform in each member country.
PM Phúc called on the regional member economies to step up economic and technical co-operation, experience and information sharing during the process of policy-making and implementation of co-operation programmes.
“However, co-operation plans and their fine goals might still fail to turn into reality when we lack trust, political determination and co-ordination to safeguard a peaceful environment, ensure security and safety for investment and the flows of goods in the region,” he noted.
Việtnam’s active participation
Việtnam officially joined APEC in 1998. Since then, APEC has played an increasingly important role in the country’s economic development.
APEC member economies have contributed about 78 percent of the total FDI inflows to Việtnam, 75 percent of total merchandise trade and 79 per cent of the total number of tourists to the country. Additionally, 13 APEC members have become Việtnam’s strategic and comprehensive partners.
“With its strong determination and efforts to deepen reform and international integration, Việtnam has made significant contributions to APEC’s cooperation,” PM Phúc said.
In the first day of the meeting, ministers exchanged and discussed ongoing initiatives related to sustainable, inclusive and innovative growth in APEC, especially initiatives in promoting competitiveness of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises.
Việt Nam has provided updates on the progress of the Action Agenda on promoting economic, financial and social inclusion in the APEC region, as well as progress on the APEC framework for developing human resources in the digital age.
Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Roberto Azevedo reported progress by WTO in preparation for the 11th WTO ministerial meeting in Argentina at the end of this year.
The meeting highlighted WTO’s recent achievements in promoting free trade, including endorsement of Bali and Nairobi outcomes, the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and the Protocol amending the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This is an important basis for the WTO to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha Development Agenda.
Trade officials have exchanged views on current regional and global economic trends, challenges and outlooks, including trade agreement negotiations and implementation. They discussed how to accelerate progress in fulfilling the Bogor Goals and initiatives to advance regional economic integration.
Most APEC members agreed to support free and open trade and committed to continue building a strong, transparent and rule-based multilateral trading system.
The meeting closes on Sunday after discussion about the APEC post-2020 vision.
High ranking officials meetings
On Saturday, Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc met US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who is in Việt Nam for the APEC 23rd Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT23).
PM Phúc highlighted the United States’ crucial role in the Asia-Pacific region’s economic co-operation, hoping the two countries would continue promoting its co-operation activities, particularly in economy and trade, to contribute to regional and global prosperity.
Việt Nam and the United States have enjoyed sound trade relations, and have witnessed significant achievements. The PM confirmed that Việt Nam supports free trade, on the basis of fairness and mutual benefits, and values economic relations with the United States.
For his part, Lighthizer underlined that Việtnam is his first destination as US Trade Representative, adding that the US always attaches importance to trade and economic development with the Southeast Asian country.
He also promised to cooperate with Vietnamese authorities to expand cooperation projects, helping develop bilateral trade and economic ties.
On the same day, PM Phúc greeted Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko. He said the Vietnamese Government would assist Japanese enterprises seeking to invest in Việtnam and called upon the two countries to flesh out new co-operation understandings to elevate bilateral trade to a new high.
He also asked organisations from both sides to discuss solutions to promoting farm produce imports and exports and contributing to increasing two-way trade, which remains below the two countries’ potential.
Meanwhile, Minister Hiroshige Seko said Việt Nam played a significant role in fostering co-operation mechanisms in Asia-Pacific and the world. He said that the Japanese Government and people hope the Prime Minister will pay an official visit to the country and pledged that his ministry will contribute to the success of the Vietnamese leader’s visit.