Apec should produce more than just fluff

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2007, 12:00am

The Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation grouping should be a community, its 21 nations working together to improve the lives of the region's people. Instead, its annual forum has ended with watered-down agreements and discord, proving right the critics who contend it is just a talk-shop.

Apec, with the world's two foremost economies, the US and Japan, and two of its fastest-growing ones, China and Russia, among its members, is ideally placed to steer international thinking. Yet the main issues it tackled - global warming and international trade - were merely nodded at through the agreements signed.

Both concerns directly affect Pacific-Rim nations. A pact meshing with the Kyoto Protocol on climate change would have been a significant statement, particularly as the US and China are the world's biggest polluters. With the Doha round of international trade negotiations on the brink of collapse, a clear way to bridge differences between rich and poor nations would have been more helpful than a call for compromise.

China, Indonesia and the Philippines disagreed with the position of Kyoto holdouts the US and Australia. Beijing was unhappy about being frozen out of discussions between the US, Japan and Australia on regional security. A rift was evident between US President George W. Bush and South Korea's Roh Moo-hyun.

That nothing substantial resulted is understandable to a degree, given the differing positions. China's rise and the suspicions created among rivals the US and Japan do not help. There are also political realities: Mr Bush is in the sunset months of his presidency, and Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe are battling for survival.

Former Australian foreign minister and Apec co-founder Gareth Evans says the organisation is 'four adjectives in search of a noun'. The just-finished talks would seem to prove him right - even though Apec, with 56 per cent of the world's economy, 40 per cent of its people and 48 per cent of international trade, should be powerful.

Political posturing and rivalries do not befit such an organisation. Apec is a forum that can - and should be made to - work.