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WASHINGTON - Asia-Pacific leaders pledged on Friday (Nov 12)  to work together in helping the world recover from the Covid-19 pandemic by deepening economic integration and sharing vaccines more equitably.

In a statement at the end of a virtual meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders hosted by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, they also vowed to tackle climate change, promote digital innovation and strengthen supply chains.

“There is no single Covid situation in Apec - every economy’s experience is different, and we’re all adapting to our own circumstances driven by our own unique management of the virus. But nonetheless we face the same fundamental questions,” said Ms Ardern, this year’s Apec chair.

“How can we get as many people vaccinated as fast as possible? How do we keep our businesses afloat and our people in jobs? How can we resume safe cross-border travel? How do we accelerate economic recovery? How do we ensure overall that we work together to secure an equitable response,” she added.

Apec’s 21 member economies rejected vaccine nationalism, pledging to boost vaccine manufacturing, speed up vaccines and related essential medical products through Customs, and avoid unnecessary export bans.

Apec also said it would better coordinate information on Covid-19 testing and vaccination certifications, as well as air and maritime crew, to facilitate cross-border travel next year. 

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for borders to be reopened progressively, though he also acknowledged the differences between economies with a “zero-Covid” strategy and those that had transitioned to living with Covid-19. 

“Between the two groups of economies, strict border measures will be unavoidable, for some time to come. Nevertheless, we must recognise the importance of reopening our borders,” said PM Lee.

The United States discussed deepening its economic engagement with the region, while China called for fostering an open Asia-Pacific economy.

US President Joe Biden “reaffirmed our interest in serving as a strong, reliable partner to Apec economies as we pursue sustained and inclusive growth”, and discussed ways to unleash the economic power of the region, the White House said in a statement.

Chinese President Xi Jinping repeated calls for a more open Asia-Pacific region while pushing for the growth of the digital economy. 

Speaking to the meeting via video link, Mr Xi pointed to China’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership as a sign of its commitment to multilateral trade. 

“We need to practise true multilateralism, stick to dialogue rather than confrontation, inclusiveness rather than exclusion, and integration rather than decoupling,” he said. 

PM Lee (seated left) attends the virtual Apec Economic Leaders’ Meeting on Nov 12, 2021. PHOTO: MCI

Leaders also discussed cooperating on the digital economy, including developing common standards and promoting innovation.

Said Mr Xi: “We need to commit ourselves to innovation-driven development, harness the power of the digital economy as a new growth engine, and spread the fruits of digital technologies to more people in our region.”

Mr Biden called for promoting an open, interoperable, reliable and secure Internet, as well as investing in robust cyber security.

On climate change, Apec leaders agreed to take practical steps to transition away from carbon.

Mr Xi reiterated China’s commitment towards peak carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060, and said China would support developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energies. 

The Apec forum capped a flurry of year-end multilateral meetings, including the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

It also comes ahead of a highly anticipated virtual summit between Mr Biden and Mr Xi, which the White House confirmed would take place on Monday.

  • Additional reporting by Elizabeth Law