森罗荡荡

森罗荡荡

By Wen Qing

Leaders from 21 members of the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum emphasized more effort is needed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and restart the regional economy at a virtual meeting on July 16.

As some of the economies, including Indonesia, Thailand and Japan, are still struggling with another resurgence of infections, increasing production and distribution of vaccines featured high on the agenda of the APEC Informal Economic Leaders Retreat hosted by New Zealand. “We will redouble our efforts to expand vaccine manufacture and supply, support global vaccine sharing efforts, and encourage the voluntary transfer of vaccine production technologies on mutually agreed terms,” a statement of the gathering read.

Moreover, the leaders also talked about how to ensure the free flow of trade and personnel and restart the economy amid the resurging pandemic. Further deepening regional economic integration and promoting the growth of the digital economy were emphasized.

According to UN Secretary General António Guterres, at least 11 billion doses are needed to vaccinate 70 percent of the global population to reach herd immunity and end this pandemic. Noting that there is uneven access to vaccines, he said the world is far from this objective.

Meanwhile, the resurgence of the coronavirus in a number of Southeast Asian countries worsens the situation. Among them, Indonesia, the worlds fourth most populous country, is facing a near exponential rise in infections as the more virulent Delta variant spreads. However, just 5.8 percent of its 270 million people have been fully vaccinated, according to Reuters.

Thailand is also struggling. Thirteen provinces in the country have tightened lockdown measures in existing red zones and expanded them to several more starting on July 20, in an attempt to curtail the spread of the virus. Yet only 5 percent of people living in Thailand had been fully vaccinated by July 19, according to the COVID-19 vaccination tracker of the Pharmaceutical Technology website.

Runaway outbreaks of the Delta variant in Thailand and Indonesia showed why it was a mistake for countries to prioritize inoculating their own populations over international cooperation, New Zealands Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said before the meeting. “Nobody is safe until everyone is safe,” she said, urging for an end to vaccine hoarding by richer countries.

During the meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for closer international cooperation on vaccines to ensure they are accessible and affordable in developing countries and that they become a global public good.

“Overcoming the challenges of its own mass vaccination program, China has provided more than 500 million doses of vaccines to other developing countries, and will provide another $3 billion in international aid over the next three years to support COVID-19 response and economic and social recovery in other developing countries,” Xi noted.

Most of the developing APEC economies have received Chinese vaccines. The Solomon Islands was the first among the Pacific island countries to receive and roll out Chinese vaccines nationwide in April. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the vaccination would be another milestone for the countrys pandemic control.

Xi also said China supports waiving intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines, and will work with other parties to push for an early decision by the World Trade Organization and other international institutions. “China will take an active part in cooperation initiatives to keep vaccine supply chains stable and safe and support the movement of essential goods, and take effective measures to ensure healthy, safe and orderly people-to-people exchanges and restore normal business cooperation in our region at an early date,” he said.

APEC members, which represent about 60 percent of the worlds GDP, suffered their biggest contraction since World War II in 2020, with 81 million jobs lost, according to Ardern. Therefore, how to restart the economy was another important topic during the meeting.

In order to help other APEC economies achieve economic recovery, China has financed a Sub-Fund on APEC Cooperation on Combating COVID-19 and Economic Recovery, Xi said. He also emphasized the importance of inclusive and sustainable development, calling for efforts including enhancing economic and technological cooperation, promoting inclusive trade and investment, and supporting the development of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Moreover, as the digital sector is essential for the future growth of the world economy, China has concluded a number of cooperation initiatives, including those on using digital technologies for the prevention and control of COVID-19 and on smart cities, and will host a workshop on digital capacity building and put forward such initiatives as bolstering the recovery of the tourism sector with digital tools.

As the most high-level and wide-ranging platform for Asia-Pacific cooperation, APEC has contributed significantly to enhancing regional free trade and investment, Yang Zerui, an expert with the China National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation, told Beijing Review.

During last years APEC Economic LeadersMeeting, it was announced that the Bogor Goals set in 1994 of achieving free and open trade and investment by 2010 for industrialized economies and by 2020 for developing economies had been achieved, and participants formulated the Putrajaya Vision 2040 to guide future cooperation between members in building an open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful Asia-Pacific community.

According to Yang Zhengwei, Deputy Director General of the Department of International Trade and Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Commerce of China, in the 26 years since the implementation of the Bogor Goals, trade volume in the region increased fivefold, with an average annual growth rate of 6.7 percent. The average regional tariff level went from 13.9 percent to 5.2 percent, reducing both the cost and time of doing business in the region.

“Opening up and integration is the prevailing trend,” Xi said. “It is important that we promote the liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment and uphold the multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at its core... We need to advance regional economic integration, with a view to establishing a high-standard Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific at an early date.”

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership pact was signed on November 15, 2020 after eight years of negotiations. Its members, consisting of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand, constitute the largest free trade bloc in the world, accounting for roughly 30 percent of the worlds GDP, trade and population. Moreover, China has expressed its willingness to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, another free trade agreement with 11 members. “If that happens, APECs trade and investment liberalization process will be further promoted and the integration of the regional economy enhanced,” Yang Zerui said. BR