US Eyes APEC to Boost Commercial Ties, Despite Biden’s Absence

The United States hopes to strengthen commercial ties with countries attending this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, where 21 economies representing nearly half of global trade will discuss efforts to boost trade and sign investment agreements.

It is the first time officials have attended in person since the coronavirus pandemic, and after years of depressed economic growth and rising trade tensions between the bloc’s two biggest trading partners, China and the United States.

Here’s what to expect:

Tourism after the pandemic, green economy

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Thai officials say the summit aims to facilitate trade and investment, resume cross-border travel after the pandemic and introduce the APEC Business Travel Card, a five-year permit for eligible business travelers to stay in the country for up to 90 days. participating countries.

Thai officials are also promoting a package of new environmental goals called the biocircular-green (BCG) economy, which they say uses science and technology to reduce waste, restore ecosystems and conserve resources.

Asian countries have relaxed their controls on the COVID pandemic, but China in particular has a zero-covid policy that has greatly reduced international business travel.

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The US State Department’s senior APEC official, Matt Murray, told VOA in a recent interview that the Thai government is “creating a safe passage task force” that would include vaccine interoperability certifications and information sharing, bringing together health experts to ensure safe return to travel. and post-pandemic tourism.

The Thai government has issued an order banning public rallies in 20 areas of Bangkok during this week’s APEC meetings to avoid disruption at the convention center and hotels where delegates will stay.

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Special guests

Saudi Arabia’s newly appointed prime minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will address APEC meetings in Bangkok on Friday, becoming the first senior member of the Saudi royal family to visit Thailand since the two countries severed diplomatic ties more than three decades ago.

Thailand and Saudi Arabia will sign agreements to strengthen diplomatic and investment ties outside of APEC. According to the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the oil-rich country is considering Thailand as a crude oil storage facility in Southeast Asia.

Police stand guard as motorcyclists stop at a traffic light near the venue of the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok, Thailand, 2022.  November 15

Police stand guard as motorcyclists stop at a traffic light near the venue of the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok, Thailand, 2022. November 15

“MBS’ visit to APEC is a welcome sign of the group’s multipolarity and vision for the future world economy,” said Thanet Aphornsuvan, a professor at Thailand’s Thammasat University. “For Thailand, normalized relations and trade with Saudi Arabia will greatly improve the oil situation.

The leaders of two other non-APEC members, French President Emmanuel Macron and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, have also been invited to this week’s meetings as the bloc looks beyond the Asia-Pacific region to address pressing issues such as the global energy crisis and supply chains. . collapse Hun Sen tested positive for COVID-19 this week, potentially canceling his appearance at APEC.

Biden’s absence

Vice President Kamala Harris is representing the United States at this week’s APEC leaders’ meeting. President Joe Biden is expected to return to Washington for his granddaughter’s wedding after the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.

“The president’s absence from APEC is an unforced error,” Matthew Goodman, senior vice president for economics at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said at a recent event. “I think he had to find a way to be there for a few hours to convince the region that he was committed, especially with the US in 2023.” takes over the role of host.

Other analysts say Biden’s absence calls into question APEC’s importance and, some say, its diminishing role in regional trade liberalization.

“The real question is, why has the United States decided that it wants to host APEC in 2023?” If this is a meeting President Biden can afford to miss in 2022, how important is it for other leaders to show up at APEC in 2023? asked Aaron Connelly, director of Southeast Asia foreign policy research at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He said Biden’s absence is “a bit of a signal that APEC is declining.”

Another factor, Connelly said, is that the current Thai government’s position on many issues is at odds with that of the United States.

Thailand is one of three APEC members (China, Thailand, Vietnam) that abstained from the October United Nations General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s attempts to annex four regions of Ukraine.

Thai officials say Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the APEC Leaders’ Summit and hold a bilateral meeting with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

The US will host APEC 2023

Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Trade Representative Katherine Tai and other senior Biden administration officials will participate in meetings this week to “promote free, fair and open trade and investment,” the State Department said.

in 2023 Several US cities have been selected for the APEC ministerial meetings, including Honolulu, Palm Springs, Detroit and Seattle. This will be the first time the US has hosted APEC since 2011.

Overshadowed by Russia’s war in Ukraine

Although members face economic challenges, officials noted that it cannot be business as usual, as this year’s APEC meetings take place in the shadow of Russia’s war in Ukraine and resulting rising food and energy prices. Russia is also a member of APEC.

“Although we have already convened eight ministerial meetings this year, we have not been able to reach a joint statement due to differences in the wording of some paragraphs in the draft joint statements,” said Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Thani Thongphakdi. Thailand during a recent press conference.

A Thai official said there would be no family photo because several leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, will not attend this week’s APEC leaders’ meeting.

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