by Uditha Jayasinghe
BALI, Indonesia, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- Vital decisions on the global political and economic landscape were taken on Monday as the APEC leaders met here and corporate stakeholders to assess the way forward.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier in the day hailed Syrian disarmament as a "terrific example" of global cooperation and agreed with Russia to push the United Nations for early peace talks in Geneva.
Speaking to media on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Bali, Kerry praised both the international community and the Syrian regime.
"Disarmament is a terrific example of global cooperation," he noted responding to questions.
"I think it's also credit to the Assad regime for complying rapidly as they are supposed to," he said. "We hope that will continue."
"It's a good beginning and we should welcome a good beginning."
Syrians began destroying their country's chemical weapons on Sunday, according to an international team tasked with overseeing the effort.
Kerry also said the United States and Russia have agreed to press the United Nations to set a date for a Syria peace conference sometime in the second week of November, after talks with his Russian counterpart.
"We will urge a date to be set as soon as possible," Kerry told reporters at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russia and the United States will now encourage Syria to bring its warring parties together for talks in Geneva, known as Geneva 2.
"We agreed again there is no military solution here and we share an interest in not having radical extremists on either side assuming a greater position in Syria, and that is why were- committed today very specific efforts to move the Geneva process as rapidly as possible."
The two sides also signed an agreement on nuclear risk reduction centers in Washington and Moscow, first created in 1987 to facilitate verification of arms control treaties and agreements.
Describing their meeting as "one of the most productive" the two top officials engaged in long discussions that also included upcoming talks with Iran to end its controversial nuclear program.
"What we need are a set of proposals from Iran that will fully disclose how they will show the world that their program is peaceful," Kerry added.
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott also put forward an ambitious plan to lock down a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, which has been stalled since 2005, within the next 12 months.
Abbott, who is attending the APEC meetings here, told reporters that he was upbeat of relations with China and was confident of being able to finalize FTA negotiations before the end of 2014.
"I am confident we can get a good agreement in 12 months. Let's face it, the Kiwis, our friend across Tasman, have had a serious FTA agreements including one with China which have been very good for their economy, particularly for their agriculture exports. They managed to go from start to finish much more quickly than we have been able to manage over the last few years of the former government. And I think we can do a lot better than that," he said.
Abbott met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday evening and expressed strong interest in doing business with the fastest growing economy in the world.
"China's growing strength is a benefit to the world, not a challenge," Abbot was quoted as telling Xi during the bilateral talks while also accepting an invitation to visit China in the middle of next year.
However, the prime minister admitted it is unlikely the FTA could be finalized by mid-year to coincide with his visit to China.
"But our intention is to move as quickly as we can and I have to say I would be disappointed if we can't conclude a significant FTA with China within 12 months."
Chinese president Xi Jinping was also supportive of the move, insisting that his government stands ready to work with their Australian counterparts.
"I firmly believe that as important nations in the Asia-Pacific region, China and Australia entering into closer cooperation not only serves common interests but will also add positive attitude to the region and also peace and development of the whole world," the Chinese president was quoted as saying after the two leaders met.
Many bilateral meetings also took place between the leaders.
Perhaps the most crucial of all was talks between the APEC Economic leaders and the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) to draw out what action needs to be taken to offset global growth worries.
The talks come at a time the reassessment of the market on the future path of U.S. monetary policy resulted in large depreciations in almost all APEC currencies against the U.S. dollar. The depreciation was largest among commodity exporters, including Australia, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Papua New Guinea and Russia, partly due to recent declines in commodity prices.
In July, the IMF revised downwards its growth forecasts for global output. World GDP is expected to grow at 3.1 percent in 2013 and 3.8 percent in 2014. In the APEC region, growth is expected to moderate from 4.1 percent in 2012 to 3.9 percent this year, before growing slightly at 4.4 percent in 2014.
Against this uncertain background, the APEC region showed uneven growth dynamics, experts have warned.
"In the face of shrinking global foreign direct investment (FDI) , we encourage APEC Leaders to take the lead in ensuring that their economies remain open to cross-border investment and promote broad understanding of the benefits of FDI as a driver of sustainable growth and employment," the ABAC said in a report presented to APEC leaders.
"We believe the increasing contribution of private sector-led sustainability and inclusive growth efforts should be acknowledged as part of promoting the benefits of investment. We further support APEC's work to explore ways that economies can promote job creation, competitiveness and economic inclusion without implementing protectionist measures such as local content requirements."
The business group, representing all 21 countries of APEC, also threw their weight behind World Trade Organization (WTO) attempts to put together a global trade deal for the first time in two decades. The agreement, if presented with APEC support, would reduce tariff barriers by millions of dollars and improve much needed economic integration.
However, they are faced with a tough deadline and need to agree to a blueprint if it is to be ratified by 193 WTO members at the next conference also to be held in Bali in December.
The same challenge faces The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).
This agreement will build on the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (P4) between Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore, which entered into force in 2006.
The TPP includes the P4 Parties as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the USA and Vietnam.
Proponents are upbeat about the inclusion of Investment and Financial Services chapters in the TPP that could provide improved opportunities for signatories financial service providers by mitigating barriers, such as foreign restrictions on capital and investment flows.
The TPP also provides a framework for engaging with countries with which members do not have an existing bilateral trade arrangement.
However, its detractors are concerned with lack of transparency in negotiations and changes to laws of countries should they sign.
TPP governments are seeking to push ahead with crucial discussions during APEC meetings currently being held in Bali.
If the negotiations are successful, the TPP would link an area with about 28 trillion U.S. dollars in annual economic output and cover over 790 million people.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak has told media that the end of 2013 deadline is a "very tight time line" and leaders will discuss if it is feasible.
Meanwhile U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman insisted at a media conference that the "finish line is in sight" and TPP officials are trying very hard to complete the deal this year.
Dampening this enthusiasm, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa was emphatic that his government would not change its mind on not joining the TPP.
A long day of intense discussions ended on a light note when the APEC leaders joined together for a formal banquet hosted by the Indonesian president wearing snazzy batik shirts gifted by the hosts.