Spotlight on Covid, Trump as Apec opens

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Spotlight on Covid, Trump as Apec opens

A monitor shows US President Donald Trump next to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the start of the online Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit on Friday. (AFP Photo)

KUALA LUMPUR: Leaders of 21 Pacific Rim economies began a virtual summit on Friday to discuss the response to the coronavirus and adopt a new vision for post-pandemic cooperation in the region.

US President Donald Trump is participating in the virtual summit, making his first appearance on the global stage since losing the presidential election earlier this month.

Officials from Malaysia, this year’s Apec chair, said they were preparing for the leaders to issue a joint statement for the first time in three years. Last year’s meeting was cancelled because of political unrest in Chile, while US-China friction prevented agreement on a document in 2018.

The leaders are also set to adopt the Apec Post-2020 Vision, which will replace the 1994 Bogor Goals, in setting the forum’s objectives for promoting free trade and regional connectivity in the aftermath of a pandemic that has claimed more than a million lives and upended the global economy.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a lasting impact on the way we view trade and economic priorities within Apec,” Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said in his opening remarks.

“We need to trade and invest our way out of the current economic downturn. We must come together and work constructively towards navigating the region along a path of robust, inclusive and sustainable economic recovery and growth.”

The summit is being held days after 15 Asia-Pacific countries including Japan, China and members of Asean signed a landmark deal to create the world’s biggest free trade bloc, facilitating the flow of goods and services and lowering barriers to investment.

Trump is participating in the summit for the first time since 2017, having sent Vice President Mike Pence in his place in 2018.

The president had kept a low profile following his election loss to Joe Biden, last week skipping a regional conference involving Asean.

Founded in 1989, Apec is a platform for discussions on free trade and economic cooperation by Pacific Rim countries covering 37% of the global population, 48% of the world’s trade volume and 60% of global gross domestic product.

The group consists of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

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