U.S. Made the Most of APEC Given What it Had to Work With
The following is an excerpt from ASPI Vice President Wendy Cutler's op-ed in Nikkei Asia.
If success is measured by the ability to convene 21 Asia-Pacific leaders amid growing global geopolitical tensions, this month's APEC summit in San Francisco should be scored as a solid "A."
The U.S. should also get high marks for showing its enduring economic commitment to the Indo-Pacific region as manifested by the active participation of senior officials including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
But in terms of concrete, agreed-upon results, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Week could be seen as a disappointment.
The current global landscape, marked by growing international and domestic tensions and divisions, shapes what is achievable from such diverse gatherings. This shift was apparent across the APEC forum itself, negotiations on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), and the summit between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
With respect to APEC, one only needs to look at its membership to understand the challenges faced by the U.S. as this year's forum host.
With members as diverse as China and Russia, reaching a consensus on anything is not easy. So instead of pushing for high-profile outcomes, Washington emphasized the themes of inclusivity, resiliency, and sustainability and framed ongoing APEC work within these contexts. The progress made in each area, while perhaps not headline-grabbing, was nonetheless substantial and will pave the way for future summit hosts like Peru and South Korea to build upon.
Furthermore, Washington skillfully navigated divergent views on the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, issuing a chair's statement to capture these differences. This approach enabled the assembled leaders to conclude the event with the Golden Gate Declaration, which emphasized common threads among the 21 APEC economies on critical issues like climate change, reform of the World Trade Organization, and digital inclusiveness.
Beyond APEC, the IPEF negotiations yielded mixed results.
The U.S. and its 13 IPEF partners signed an agreement on supply chains and announced "substantial conclusion" of their work on decarbonization and the clean energy transition, anticorruption, and taxation. These agreements feature cooperation mechanisms, capacity building, investment promotion, and structures for engagement as opposed to the binding, enforceable rules found in traditional trade agreements.
Still, those are important areas for collective action and should not be discounted. Looking ahead, the U.S. must focus on effectively carrying out the work called for in those areas, ensuring the IPEF is recognized as a credible and durable framework capable of delivering meaningful outcomes for citizens across the region.