by Feng Wuyong, Wang Bo
BALI, Indonesia, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- The two-day APEC Ministerial Meeting ended with a joint statement that reaffirmed commitment to rules-based multilateral trading system with WTO as its "preeminent forum." This reaffirmation may well serve as a reminder of the contention over global trade rule setting.
Parallel to the APEC Ministerial Meeting and summit, members of the Trans- Pacific Partnership(TPP), notably among them the United States and Japan, held a similar ministerial meeting and summit.
Earlier media report predicted that TPP members may reach consensus in principle at the summit, but that prospect was overshadowed by the abrupt absence of U.S. President Barack Obama from the APEC summit.
While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tried to ease the worries by assuring that the summit will be held as scheduled, New Zealand has taken over the chairmanship from the United States.
TPP negotiation is considered a free trade negotiation with the highest threshold, covering 21 different areas, such as tariffs, trade facilitation, government procurement, intellectual property right protection and e-commerce.
Although the 12 TPP members also have APEC membership, major economies such as Indonesia, China, South Korea and Russia are not TPP members.
Indonesia, the 2013 APEC presidency, is understandably unhappy with TPP's move to put up a rival show on Bali Island. For a time, it allegedly wished that TPP ministerial meeting and summit would move elsewhere.
Roberto Azevedo, the newly appointed WTO director general, probably felt the same strain.
The organization's Ninth Ministerial Meeting (MC9) will be held in Bali, a move widely seen as a last-minute effort to save the Doha Round of trade talks.
Azevedo said in Bali on Saturday that in its endeavor to push talks on multilateral trading system, WTO needs the continued support of APEC members as they are a very important part of the WTO.
The joint statement issued at the end of APEC's Ministerial Meeting may come as a consolation for him.
The statement expressed APEC's hope that achievements would be made in the three key issues of trade facilitation, agriculture and development at MC9. It also urged parties of the WTO talks to show political will and flexibility to help narrow differences and ensure substantial progress in the talks.
Tang Guoqiang, chairman of China National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation Council, noted that Indonesia, host of both APEC and MC9, has integrated the agendas of the two events as regards promoting regional economic integration.
This enabled multilateral trading system and regional economic cooperation help and complement each other.
Earlier, Regional Comprehensive Partnership (RCEP), which groups the 10 ASEAN nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India, just ended another round of negotiation in Brisbane, Australia.
At the East Asia summit held in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia last year, its 16 members announced the start of negotiations, which cover such areas as trade of goods and service, and investment protection. They set the goal of reaching an agreement by 2015, which coincides with the deadline for ASEAN Economic Community.
Once established, the RCEP, with a population of 3.4 billion and 30 percent of the global economy, will become the largest free trade area in the world.
The future development of these major free trade negotiations will have direct impact on Free Trade Agreement of the Asia Pacific(FTAAP), a proposed mechanism for regional economic integration and long-term economic growth in Asia and Pacific and other multilateral trading systems for that matter.
Parties at TPP negotiations are also APEC members, the same is true of participants of RCEP. It is important that these free trade negotiations integrate with rather than undercut each other, and APEC is expected to play a major coordinating role in this regard.
Just as APEC members stressed in the joint statement of the Ministerial Meeting, APEC should continue to excise strong leadership, and play a major role in providing intellectual support, enhancing transparency and sharing of information and promoting capacity building.
Professor Keichi Umada from Kyorin University said that multilateral free trade negotiations, either TPP or RCEP, have to complement with APEC for the ultimate goal of establishing a free trade area.