The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit kicked off yesterday in Lima, Peru, where leaders from 21 major world economies gathered to discuss issues of mutual importance and concerns of protectionism. The meeting is notable for being the final international summit for U.S. President Barack Obama — which also means it is the last before President-elect Donald Trump takes over the world’s highest office.
Chinese President Xi Jinping used his keynote address to oppose the anti-trade rhetoric spewed throughout Trump’s campaign and caution his peers from accepting the protectionist momentum taking hold after the U.S. election and Brexit.
“We need to commit ourselves to build a community with a shared future, and that should oblige us to come closer together than move apart,” said Xi, according to CCTV. “We ought to continue deepening and expanding the cooperation in our region. We ought to build a common platform, establish common rules, and share the results of our development. Any attempt to exclude any of us should be rejected.”
Xi called for a free-trade area among the 21 nations present at the summit, which included the United States, China, Colombia, Peru, Russia, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile, and Australia, among others.
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was even harsher in his comments. “Protectionist tendencies are taking over,” he said, adding that “for anybody who wants to promote protection I suggest they read an economic history of the 1930s,” he said, per CCTV.
Before the event, Juan Raffo, the current chair of the APEC Business Advisory Council, elaborated on the potential problems that will befall economies across the globe if protectionism slows the unprecedented advancement in global integration we have seen in the past two decades.
“Protectionist actions make it harder for business to play its part in creating employment and raising living standards across the region,” said Raffo. “Brexit and recent election results in both developed and developing economies seem to have served as a referendum on the merits of economic integration. They have created an unprecedented uncertainty about the direction of the global economy. They appear to call into question the successful model of economic integration that has been responsible for rapid growth and the spread of prosperity around the world.”
He continued. “We accept the need to do more to help convince our citizens that economic integration is directly linked to expanding prosperity and that open markets — enhanced by new technologies and ways of doing business — have lifted millions out of poverty. Yet we also know not everyone has shared equally in this dividend and many feel left behind. While social safety nets can provide temporary relief and assistance in adapting to the new circumstances, it is structural economic reform that can address any negative consequences on a longer term and permanent basis.”
While Colombia is not (yet) a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that is at the center of the practical free-trade discussion for many of the leaders at the summit, Santos was seen at the meeting speaking with Obama. He also reportedly held bilateral meetings with Xi, Kuczynski, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
In his public comments, Santos focused on the new peace agreement his nation reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) last weekend. He said that he expects a determination to be reached soon on how that deal will be formally implemented. He also stressed the economic and social benefits of finally putting to end more than a half century of conflict.
“That is good news for all of us — for all the businessmen — because this is the last conflict on the American continent, and if you manage to end this last armed conflict then this will be a continent at peace in a world that still unfortunately has many problems, many wars,” said Santos.