With the region mired in economic uncertainty, most leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum were looking to their annual summit to provide much-needed collective problem-solving. Instead, like the last gathering, it has been hijacked by terrorism. Rather than concentrating their energies on the lifeblood of Apec - economic integration to sustain growth - the 21 Pacific rim heads of state and government gathered at the Mexican resort of Los Cabos focused on ways to improve security and counter-terrorism efforts. Key among these was the United States-drafted Secure Trade in the Apec region initiative, which aims to enhance security while increasing trade. In the immediate wake of the Bali bombings and the hostage drama at a Moscow theatre, it was inevitable that terrorism would top the agenda. It was a carbon copy of the Shanghai summit, which took place just a month after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Then, as at the weekend, issues such as integration of tariffs and strengthening trade ties were sidelined. For nations such as the Philippines and Indonesia, shunned by international investors because of terrorist threats and attacks, the opportunity was welcome. Presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Megawati Sukarnoputri will leave Mexico knowing they have regional support. North Korea will feel pressure to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme. But US President George W. Bush and his officials also used the occasion to lobby for a tough United Nations resolution against Iraq - an issue of no relevance to Apec. September 11 was a wake-up call to the world and it has since consumed global gatherings - especially those involving the US. Yet the world's superpower is no safer and the terrorism threat has not diminished. Meanwhile, unemployment continues to rise and financial markets remain uncertain. Poverty levels are rising. The discussion of terrorism increases awareness of the threat. We become less prone to make rash decisions about our safety. Better surveillance diminishes the risk that we will fall victim to terrorists. But the issue must not be all-consuming as it has been for the past year. The few opportunities leaders of groups such as Apec have to meet should increasingly be devoted to improving economies, co-operation and standards. Leaders owe it to the people they represent.