By Lynda Jumilla, ABS-CBN News
MANILA – Asia-Pacific leaders called for increased international cooperation and solidarity against terrorism as they condemned recent terrorist attacks that killed hundreds in France and Lebanon and downed a Russian airliner over Egypt.
“Under the shadow cast by the terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and against Russian aircraft over the Sinai, and elsewhere, we strongly condemn all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism in all their forms and manifestations,” said the 21 leaders representing member-economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
“We stress the urgent need for increased international cooperation and solidarity in the fight against terrorism.”
The “urgent call” was contained in a draft of the statement the APEC leaders are scheduled to issue late Thursday, at the end of their 2-day meeting in Manila.
Although APEC is primarily concerned with lowering trade barriers, facilitating investments, and integrating the region’s economies, the leaders took note of the link between terrorism and economic growth.
“We will not allow terrorism to threaten the fundamental values that underpin our free and open economies,” they said. “Economic growth, prosperity, and opportunity are among the most powerful tools to address the root causes of terrorism and radicalization.”
The APEC leaders’ last major statement on terrorism was in Shanghai in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. At that time, the terrorism statement was in a separate document from their main statement on lowering of trade barriers and facilitating investments.
In APEC 2015, the reference to terrorism is incorporated in the main declaration.
The leaders also welcomed APEC members’ efforts to counter terrorism, especially measures to combat terrorist financing and prevent the travel of foreign terrorist fighters.
“We further encourage economies to implement fully the APEC Consolidated Counter-Terrorism and Secure Trade Strategy and to continue taking collective and individual actions and sharing best practices to secure infrastructure, travel, supply chains, and financial systems from terrorist activities,” they said.
Advancing free trade
The leaders of the APEC forum members gathered in Manila on Wednesday to hold a two-day meeting. A major agenda item was how to push ahead with their ultimate goal of establishing a broad free trade zone under the Free-Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) framework.
Discussions will be intensified in particular after 12 countries, all APEC members, concluded years of negotiations last month to create the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade bloc that covers 40 percent of the global economy.
“We reaffirm our commitment to advance the process in a comprehensive and systematic manner towards the eventual realization of the FTAAP as a major instrument to further APEC’s regional economic integration agenda,” the draft joint declaration reads.
The TPP and other regional trade pacts under negotiation have been considered as fundamental steps toward creating the ambitious FTAAP free trade zone.
“We note the recent development on the free trade agreements in the region and the progress of the possible pathways to the FTAAP, including the finalization of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations,” the draft notes.
It goes on to say the members also “encourage the early completion of negotiations for (the) Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership” which is seen as another huge multilateral trade initiative that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Japan and India, along with three other partners, are seeking to establish.
A summit of the 12 countries involved in the U.S.-led TPP was also held Wednesday on the sidelines of the APEC summit.
“While our focus is on approval and implementation of the results of negotiations with our current partners, we have also seen interest from a number of economies throughout the region,” the leaders said in a statement issued after the TPP meeting.
The trade treaty “isn’t (just) about boosting exports between our countries in the Asia-Pacific. The TPP is also helping to write the rules of global trade for the 21st century,” U.S. President Barack Obama, the chair of the meeting, said.
The 12 TPP countries will need to ratify the agreement before bringing it into force.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged the partners to work on the necessary procedures promptly. The TPP pact would be “pie in the sky” if it does not take effect, he said.
The APEC forum, established in 1989, groups Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.
— with a report from Kyodo News