Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Formation of APEC’s Post-2020 Vision: Observations from SOM2 2018

Linda Liu

     As the 2020 deadline for the Bogor Goals approaches, APEC has been seeking to map out its future vision, including through specialized group discussions at the second APEC Senior Officials Meeting (SOM2) in 2018, held in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, from May 14 to 24. This article
will outline some observations and thoughts on meetings of the first APEC Vision Group (AVG1) and of the related SOM Steering Group (SSG) on APEC's Post-2020 Vision.

     The AVG1 meeting touched on APEC's achievements so far. Attendees noted that the Asia-Pacific region will soon account for almost 60% of the world's GDP, and that average tariffs in the region have fallen since the establishment of the Bogor Goals in 1994. Meanwhile, extreme poverty
conditions have been alleviated while the middle class has also been strengthened. However, deficiencies across APEC remain, with the goal of achieving free and open trade and investment by 2020 in the region still a ways away, and tariffs in important industries such as agriculture still high
despite declining average duties. Additionally, non-tariff measures and restrictions on foreign capital have seemed to increase, and uneven economic growth has prevented some social groups from receiving the benefits of globalization. During AVG1, the APEC Secretariat further mentioned that
if there is strong interest in AVG in the future, consultations may be held with relevant APEC working groups and other affiliate organizations, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the APEC Policy Support Unit (PSU), APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) and the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC). AVG representatives may also decide to invite representatives from the aforementioned organizations to serve as observers at upcoming AVG meetings.

     To facilitate interactions and discussions between AVG and SOM, a SOM Steering Group (SSG) has been established, with its membership consisting of Senior Officials from past, present and future APEC host economies from the years 2016 to 2022. At SOM1, the SSG meeting was a subject of concerns regarding its limits on participation from other economies, which was regarded in some quarters as contrary to APEC's consensus-based tradition. After several efforts were made during the
intersessional period to allow non-SSG members to participate and voice their opinions in future AVG, SSG and joint meetings, most procedural concerns were resolved, and subsequent discussions have been relatively smooth and constructive. In particular, a certain SSG co-chair sought to allay
the concerns of other economies by reiterating that the role of SSG should be to coordinate communications between SOM and AVG rather than to replace the role of SOM, and emphasizing that SSG has worked on guidelines under which AVG can operate efficiently and secure outcomes from discussion.

     To create a more open atmosphere at SSG meetings, delegates are not assigned seats in the typical alphabetical order used by APEC, but are rather allowed to sit where they please. At these meetings, some nonmember economies actively voiced their opinions on the outstanding and still contentious question of whether or not to involve other APEC-related bodies or international organizations in AVG's shaping of a post-2020 vision. The SSG meeting acknowledged the importance of involving these organizations, but reiterated that SOM will still have the final say in approving any decision
made. This clarification was made to preserve the effectiveness of the multistakeholder dialogue to be held at SOM3 this year, which aims to strengthen and broaden the discussion of APEC's goals beyond 2020.

    At the SSG-AVG joint meeting, representatives from the APEC Secretariat delivered an overview of APEC's history and evolution over the past few decades, as well as the obstacles it has faced and its future challenges ahead, all with the aim of reminding AVG representatives of the importance of passing on APEC's ambition for building a free and open trading environment and its concurrent emphasis on maintaining inclusive growth. However, the choice of some APEC member economies to assign senior officials to serve as AVG representatives, and others to assign adhoc representatives, suggests that member economies are approaching the formulation of a post-2020 vision from different perspectives. Possible reasons for this divergence might be a desire to streamline or simplify
coordination between AVG and SOM domestically, or may also stem from the view that the function and tasks of AVG do not vary significantly from that of senior officials. The decision by economies to name their senior officials to concurrent positions as AVG representatives, or to select new AVG representatives based on their backgrounds, may reveal, together with the degree of commitment that each representative has made or will make, the sort of efforts and planning that each economy is willing to take on the way to APEC's new era after 2020. As the political tectonic plates in the Asia-Pacific region gradually shift, this will become an important point of interest for the two years to come.

(Linda Liu is an Assistant Research Fellow at the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research)

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