Dr Ying-Jun Lin
Associate Research Fellow, Chinese Taipei APEC Study Center, TIER
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (hereinafter "APEC") is one of the regional
organisations in the Asia-Pacific. 2020 is the critical year of APEC. It needs to
retrospect the past and, meanwhile, requires to prepare the future. Some long-term
strategic plans are expiry this year that require the final review to understand their
achievements. On the other side, APEC needs to develop new strategic plans and
long-term goals to envision the future. Notably, the Asia-Pacific is facing the global
economic sluggish, unequal income distribution, disruption of digital technologies.
economy in the region and the world. Facing these challenges, the host Economy,
Malaysia, proposes the concept of shared prosperity as the theme of 2020 APEC
and tends to highlight the purpose of inclusive growth in the APEC. This article
first illustrates the priorities identified by Malaysia and explains the motivation
behind these issues through the perspectives of "macroeconomic development vs
individual development demands" and "economic growth vs social development".
Then, this article illuminates how the concept of shared prosperity guides the
annual theme and priorities and influences the discussion of Post-2020 Vision.
Observing the political division between developed and developing economies in
APEC, this article concludes that the confrontation and compromise between the
two political camps in terms of APEC’s central value will be decisive to the Post-
The Theme and Priorities of 2020 APEC
Malaysia announced the theme of 2020 APEC "Optimising Human Potential
towards a Future of Shared Prosperity" at the Informal Senior Officer Meeting
(ISOM) in 2019. It set up three priority areas (hereinafter “priorities") to
materialise the annual theme: “Improving the Narrative of Trade and Investment”,
“Inclusive Economic Participation through Digital Economy and Technology”, and
“Driving Innovative Sustainability”.
These priorities are in line with the APEC's concerning issues in general,
such as trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation, inclusive growth,
and sustainable environmental development. Taking a close look at the planned
works; however, these priorities of 2020 APEC are in favour of the goal of
inclusive growth. For Malaysia, inclusive growth means to consider wellbeing
and welfare of people and meet social needs while pursuing trade and investment
liberalisation. Malaysia tends to leverage economic policies by promoting social
and environmental concerns and values in policymaking. In this regard, inclusive
growth is no longer subject to the development gap between individuals and
enterprises under one economy. Instead, inclusive growth is the instrument for
APEC to narrow the gap between developed and developing economies. The
article proposes two perspectives to illustrate the motivation behind Malaysia's
priorities and critical works.
1.Incorporation of individual needs into macroeconomic policies
The first perspective to review the 2020 APEC’s priorities is the incorporation
of individual need into macroeconomic policies. To reflect individuals' needs
and welfare into economic policies, Malaysia proposed two key works, Beyond
GDP and Inclusive and Responsible Business. As to the work of Beyond GDP,
the Malaysian government wants to raise attention to the shortage of existing
economic quantitative indicators, primarily the world-wide use of GDP. Because
GDP mainly focuses on the market value of products and service, Malaysia wants
to encourage APEC members to discuss and develop new indicators. Malaysia believes that a more comprehensive economic measurement that can reflect diverse
dimensions of the economy, society and environment will enable policymakers
to develop more balanced and holistic economic policies that not only focus on
industrial and multi-national corporates but also answer individuals’ needs.
Moreover, Malaysia realises the engagement of private sectors as a decisive
factor to economic growth as well. It tends to promote "inclusive and responsible
business" to encourage private sectors to open opportunities to vulnerable and
underrepresented groups such as women, rural citizens, and indigenous people.
Malaysia also proposed the “inclusive and responsible business” as a permeant
issue of APEC Investment Expert Group (IEP) to expand the horizon of investment
liberalisation and facilitation.
The concern of individuals is also reflected in the second priority of “Inclusive
Economic Participation through Digital Economy and Technology”. Four major
works pave ways to facilitate inclusive economic participation in the digital era.
The first one is “women empowerment and leadership”. The work is designed to
discuss removing barriers on women's econmic participation and access to finance.
The equality in digtial capacity, payments, and the working enrionment are also
Secondly, the work of “Conductive Ecosystems for Start-ups and Social
Enterprises” desires to discuss alternative economic measures to improve financial
issues of start-ups and encourage governments to promote social enterprises.
Thirdly, the work of “Promoting Smart Living for Ageing Population” focuses on
the reemployment and economic participation of elderly, releasing the social and
economic benefits of the elders. The last but not the least work is about "the Future
of Work". The topic aims to raise attention to the benefits and challenges of digital
technology in the workforce. One of the issues is about reskilling and upskilling in
the digital era. Moreover, an emerged economic mode, gig-freelance workers, is
According to the planned works in line with the two priorities, we can see that
Malaysia intentionally highlights the demands of individual in macroeconomic
policies. The first priority emphasises the social responsibility of the private
sectors. The second priority categorises individuals’ needs into different groups,
including women, elderly, and workers, to refine the focus of economic policies.
Meanwhile, New Zealand proposed an initiative of facilitating indigenous
economy in the Asia-Pacific at the first SOM Steering Committee on Economic
and Technical Cooperation (SCE). The initiative broadens the scope of individuals
into the indigenous people, a missing part of traditional economic policies within
economies and across the region.
2.The complementation of social development and trade-centred economic
There is an alternative perspective of the planned works in line with the
priorities. For instance, the first priority-“improving the narrative of trade and
investment”-aims to address the inequalities in liberal economic policies that reflect
on the central mission of APEC, trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation
(TILF). Enabling all people and business benefited from liberal economic policies
echoes Malaysia’s Economic Vision by 2030 that highlights the spirit of shared
In this regard, the second priority is complementary to the first priority by
focusing on different layers of groups in a society. Economic participation and
empowerment of women and small business' engagement in the global value chain
and supply chain are about interests of specific groups. The rationale behind the
second priority is to ground economic policies on society as a whole system. That
contains economic, social, environmental and other dimensions. Therefore,
Economic prosperity relies on not only the operation of the market but also
the social wellbeing and environmental progress. Therefore, the second priority
addresses the equalities in access to opportunities and capacities for women, elders, and small business, while the third priority focuses on the sustainability of the
The work of Beyond GDP proposed by Malaysia is also the evidence of
complementation of social development and economic policies. By exploring
alternative indicators to GDP in terms of economic measurement, Malaysia
wants to broaden horizons of economic policies from a trade-centred or marketoriented
perspective toward a holistic and diverse one. Social inequalities, people's
welfare and environmental sustainability, are relevant factors and consequences
of economic activities that policymakers need to pay attention to. While shifting
the paradigm of economic policies needs time, continuing the discussion in the
Economic Committee and the dialogue meeting of multiple stakeholders are a good
start. Malaysia is planning to propose possible alternatives for APEC members to
refer to the end of this year.
Besides specific work plans, the theme of 2020 APEC has indicated Malaysia’s
intention to make economic policies embedded in social and environmental
grounds. The key idea is “shared prosperity”.
The idea was first mentioned by former President of Malaysia, Mahathir
Bin Mohamad, at his speech to APEC in 2018. He questioned the goal of open
and free trade and investment continuing the central mission of APEC and the
primary driver of the regional economy. He urged APEC members to confront
the challenges of liberal economic policies and take actions. The concept of
shared prosperity among all members, he believed, is vital for APEC to longterm
development and achieve “Prosper Thy Neighbor” instead of “Beggar Thy
Neighbor”. At the 2019 ISOM, he reiterated that Malaysia, as the host of 2020
APEC, will rally APEC to ensure “benefits from trade, investment, and economic
cooperation are felt and enjoyed by our people”.
It can say that the complementation of social development and trade-centred
policies, as well as the individual's needs in the macroeconomic landscape, are all the ways to mirror the concept of shared prosperity.
The Linkage between the Expired Long-Term Goals and Post-2020
Besides the proposed work plan by Malaysia, APEC is also required to proceed
final review of several important long-term goals. The long-term goals include
Bogor Goals that directs the development of APEC and the region in the past two
decades, the Renewed APEC Agenda of Structural Reform (RAASR) that is the
strategic plan of structural reform in the period of 2015 and 2020, and the APEC
Food Security Roadmap Towards 2020 that was developed in 2015.
First, Bogor Goals were set up by APEC Leaders in 1994. Through the Bogor
Leaders' Declaration, APEC Leaders committed to promoting the liberalisation
of the Asia-Pacific. They indicated two different timeframes for industrialised
member economies (Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and the US) and
developing member economies to achieve the goal by 2010 and 2020, respectively.
Since the introduction of Bogor Goals, the overall APEC economy has grown
from US$2.35 billion in 1990 to US$6.62 billion in 2019, with annual growth
rate of 3.7% on average. The strong economic growth strength not only raises the
average income of people in the area, reduces poverty population, but also expands
the number of the middle class. However, the Bogor Goals is to expire this year.
The Committee of Trade and Investment (CTI) needs to make a final review of the
progress of Bogor Goals within member economies and across the region since
1994. Unfinished business that will be incorporated to the next long-term goals of
APEC is also expected as well.
RAASR is the strategic plan that set up mid-term of goals for APEC’s structural
reform. Structural reform is about using policy to remove barriers that hinder
people and business and other economic opportunities in the context of a market
economy. In other words, structural reform is complementary to facilitate the liberalisation of trade and investment within the individual economy and across the
region. APEC's structural reform agenda is organised into three pillars: 1) develop
more open, transparent and competitive markets; 2) deepen the participation of all
segments of society, and; 3) establish sustainable social policies.
Starting from 2005, in every five years, the Economic Committee (EC) prepares
a strategic plan of structural reform agenda that identifies key areas and priorities
of works. RAASR succeeded the previous the APEC New Strategy for Structural
Reform (ANSSR) in 2010 that was based on the Leaders' Agenda to Implement
Structural Reform (LAISR) in 2005. Because of the incoming expire of RAASR,
the EC needs to execute the final review of the progress of RAASR in the past five
years and prepares a new strategic plan.
Another mid-term plan is the APEC Food Security Roadmap. The Roadmap
was composed by the Policy Partnership on Food Security (PPFS) in 2013 and
approved by the 4th food security ministerial meeting in 2014. The Roadmap
remarked the determination of APEC members to promote a regional food system
structure to ensure food security and sustainability. Moreover, the Roadmap set
up a goal that APEC economies will strive to reduce food loss and waste by 10
per cent compared with the 2011-2012 levels by 2020. Five key areas were also
identified to sustain the regional food system, including sustainable development
of the agricultural and fishery sectors, facilitation of investment and infrastructure
development, enhancing trade and markets, reducing food loss and waste, and
improving food safety and nutrition.
Being the host of PPFS in 2020, Malaysia is planning to execute the final
review of the Food Security Roadmap and will work with New Zealand to propose
a long-term plan for the next step of food security agenda.
Final review of mid-term and long-term goals of APEC is essential to
understand the progress of specific issues in the region and within individual
economies. More importantly, retrospection is for new goals. Among these final review works, the most significant one is Bogor Goals.
The Asia-Pacific and the global environment is experiencing changes since
1994. The three pillars that APEC developed to achieve Bogor Goals have been
questioned the incompletion to respond to diverse demands in the region. While
the third pillar (economic and technical cooperation, ECOTECH) is complementary
to other two pillars (liberalisation of trade and investment, and business
facilitation), developing economies question that the third pillar is insufficient to
achieve the goal of inclusive growth. Neither is it in response to the development
gap within economies and across the region.
Therefore, the new Vision (also called Post-2020 Vision) to succeed Bogor
Goals will not be limited to address the issue of trade and investment. Instead,
the majority of APEC members expect Post-2020 Vision will cover a wide range
of topics from economic issues to social and environmental problems and the
organisational agenda for APEC as an institution. In this regard, the results of the
final review works are an essential reference for APEC members to envision the
The Implication of the Concept of “Shared Prosperity” in the
Development of Post-2020 Vision
2020 APEC is the turning point of APEC. APEC is expected to review
the achievement to long-term goals and to prepare the new Vision for the next
generation. As the host economy this year, Malaysia is facing severe pressure to
ensure the smooth progress of these deliverables.
Because of the preparation of Post-2020 Vision, Malaysia tends to apply the
concept of shared prosperity to line the annual theme and the new Vision. There
several possible reasons to explain Malaysia’s promotion of the concept of shared
prosperity in Post-2020 Vision. One reason is to respond to inequalities in the Asia-
Pacific. Another reason is to ensure APEC responding to the interests and needs of developing member economies. Besides, because of the same language of
Malaysia's national economic vision, the concept of shared prosperity will remark
Malaysia's leadership in Post-2020 Vision once.
However, the major economies of APEC, the US and Japan in particular, have
sensed Malaysia's intention. The opposite attitudes of the US and Japan reflected
in two situations. The first situation is in the discussion of Post-2020 Vision. Japan
questioned the concept of shared prosperity is unprecedented in APEC. Without
the consensus of all member economies, Japan believed the concept inappropriate
appearing in Post-2020 Vision. The US questioned the concept of shared prosperity
as an undefined concept which might distract the merit of APEC that facilitates
the regional economy. The US also believed that the third pillar (ECOTECH) is
sufficient to answer the needs of inclusion and sustainability of the society and
In the discussion of specific initiatives relating to Malaysia's priorities, the US
reiterated that APEC needs to focus on the issues concerning regional development.
Domestic affairs such as indigenous people are not appropriate to be discussed at
APEC forum. Japan also clarified its position that the goal of inclusive growth
should not exceed the scope of ECOTECH in the APEC structure.
Opposite to the US and Japan, developing member economies that led by China
showed their support to the concept of shared prosperity and the adjustment of the
primary mission of APEC.
The political divergence between developed and developing economies in
APEC has emerged in past years. Since 2016, the host economies of APEC were
all developing member economies. In 2016, Peru, as the host economy emphasised
the participation of micro, small and medium businesses (MSMEs) in the global
value chain. When Vietnam hosted APEC in 2017, it set inclusive growth as one
priority that promoted the financial and social inclusion action for APEC's regional
economy. Papua New Guinea set inclusive growth driven by structural reform into the priorities of 2018 APEC. The host economy of 2019 APEC, Chile, highly
addressed women and marine issues. Because of its leadership, the Roadmap of
Women and Inclusive Growth and the Roadmaps of Marine Debris and Combating
IUU Fishing were endorsed. Following the development model, there is no
surprise that Malaysia arranges the priorities of 2020 APEC mainly focusing on the
issue of inclusion and sustainability.
The political division in APEC not only mirrors the developmental gap
between developed and developing economies. But more importantly, it may
affect the development of Post-2020 Vision. Once the difference in political ideas
transformed into political conflicts among member economies, it will hinder the
production of Post-2020 Vision and invade the leadership and impact of APEC in
APEC was created as the forum to promote the liberalisation of the regional
economy. However, the liberal economy goal is challenged. Moreover, the
outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic starting from this March also highlights the
danger of single-minded or trade-centred economy policy. The wellbeing and
welfare of society, instead, is the foundation of the economy. These challenges
stimulate the question of whether the liberalisation of trade and investment remains
the central mission of APEC in the future.
Concerning the growing power of developing economies, the article believes
that developed economies will no longer dominate the future direction of APEC.
Instead, developing member economies will compete with developed economies
to secure their interests, as like what happened in the Doha Round of World Trade
Organization (WTO). In the context of the power structure, the development
of Post-2020 Vision is reallocating the power structure within APEC. The final
content of Vision depends upon the efforts of APEC members to minimise the
impact of conflicts to shape the consensus.
1.APEC (2020), "Background Paper - Priority Area 1: Improving the Narrative of
Trade and Investment", 2020/SOM1/011.
2.APEC (2020), "Background Paper - Priority Area 2: Inclusive Economic
Participation Through Digital Economy and Technology", 2020/ SOM1/012.
3.APEC (2020), "Background Paper - GDP and Beyond: Exploring an Inclusive
Approach for Economic Performance", 2020/SOM1/017.
4.Shannon Teoh, "Mahathir Mohamad launches Shared Prosperity Vision 2030",
The Straits Times, 2019/10/06.