Current Accounts: The Hinrich Foundation Trade Podcast
Assessing US objectives for APEC 2023
Published 23 May 2023
In this special edition of Current Accounts, the Hinrich Foundation’s global trade podcast, guest host former US Representative Charles Boustany leads a discussion on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum 2023 with former US Deputy Trade Representative Robert Holleyman and Shihoko Goto of the Wilson Center. The episode was first featured in Asia Insight, the podcast of the National Bureau of Asian Research.
Tune in to the special episode hosted by the National Bureau of Asian Research here:
The United States will host the APEC forum in 2023. Under APEC’s 2023 theme, “Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Future for All”, the United States is set to spearhead efforts on key issues such as supply chain resilience, digital trade, connectivity, opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises, climate change, and environmental instability.
Things have changed rapidly since the last time the US hosted such a forum in 2011. This year, the US has chosen to cast a wide net in setting priorities and faces the challenge of bringing a disparate group of countries together on key issues.
While there are a lot of expectations of US leadership, skepticism abounds in equal measure. Another US-led regional initiative, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, has received a lukewarm response from many in the business and policy communities. APEC provides an opportunity for the US to prove its global economic leadership capabilities.
What are the opportunities for the US to make tangible progress in its host year? What are the challenges it faces?
As APEC members prepare for the November summit, this podcast unpacks the economic and geopolitical factors that may impact its agenda.
Here is an excerpt from their conversation:
In what areas do you think the United States can make tangible progress in its host year, and where do you see things being particularly challenging?
Yeah, so a lot has changed since the United States was actually the host country of APEC. And there are a lot of expectations for the United States to really bring this very disparate group of countries together. But at the same time, there's a lot of skepticism as well. And that skepticism really comes from mixed messages that are coming out from Washington. So on the one hand, the United States is saying yes, we want to work on connectivity and working together, and it wants to have a multilateral effort, but at the same time, it also appears to many outside of Washington, that it still wants to look for a US-led order on the economic front that is also matching that security leadership that it has. Now on the security front, the United States has really been successful in bringing countries together to push back against authoritarian rule—not just in Asia, but also in Europe as well—against China as well as Russia. That kind of clarity, unfortunately, is lacking on the economic front.
Now the expectation, or the hope, I should say, is that APEC provides this forum for the United States to really step up to the plate to bring its economic leadership and the economic agenda that would actually match the military leadership that it has actually provided to date, but if we actually open the box and see what the United States is offering, there seems to be a little bit of slim pickings.
Yes, the United States has come up with IPEF, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and I do think that the four issues that IPEF lays out are something that is very much forward-looking, and they are issues that other countries can actually rally around. That is to say, trade facilitation in particular, ensuring supply chain resiliency, sustainability, and decarbonization, and dealing with corruption and focusing on good governance—these are issues that most of the APEC member countries can actually agree on. But at the same time, there's a lot of pushback, especially from Southeast Asian countries, saying, “Oh, it's a trade deal. Where's the market access? What are we getting out of this? Why should we sign on to it?” I do think what Washington is saying that trade is taking on a different light, that it isn't simply about market access, and we do have to focus on economic priorities and transparency and bringing like-minded countries together under the four pillars that IPEF has outlined—that is something that can and should be pushed forward at the APEC meetings that are coming forth. But at the same time, the United States does need to recognize that what the Indo-Pacific region in particular is looking for is not just about adhering to the rule of law, but it does actually need greater access to US markets, which are lucrative. It does need to have greater development assistance, it needs support on infrastructure development and the like, and the United States actually needs to put a great deal of money as well as effort into achieving some of these goals. So let me leave it at that for now.
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