Asia Pacific leaders set aside differences with their first joint communique in three years, calling for free and predictable trade to help a global economy laid low by the coronavirus pandemic.
Leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), who included Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping, also said they would not resort to protectionist policies.
Their joint statement, after a virtual summit hosted by Malaysia, is set against a backdrop of ongoing trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
“The impact of (the US-China) trade war has been eclipsed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin told reporters after the meeting.
“APEC has also pledged to refrain from backtracking and resorting to protectionist measures to keep markets and borders open,” he said.
In the communique, the leaders said they recognised “the importance of a free, open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent and predictable trade and investment environment” to drive growth during the crisis.
APEC countries failed to reach agreement in 2018, after talks were stymied by discord over trade and investment between the US and China, and last year’s gathering in Chile was cancelled due to violent street protests.
Mr Trump largely focused on domestic issues in his remarks at the meeting and spoke of the successes of his time in office, a source who heard it said.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters that Mr Trump’s remarks were about the coronavirus, vaccines and economic recovery.
“We can do this,” he quoted Mr Trump as saying about defeating COVID-19.
Mr Xi, in his remarks, called for free and open trade and investment, and support for multilateralism.
He also said China will “actively consider” signing up for a regional free-trade pact, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Other leaders who joined the virtual meeting include New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Russian President Vladamir Putin and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.