Critically evaluate the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum’s attempts to enhance regional economic integration in the Asia-Pacific.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) was created in 1989 as a regional discussion forum for fostering “closer economic relations within the region through inter-governmental consultations and other non-binding mechanisms.” (Dent, 2007:449). To a large extent the forum echoed “many decades of proceeding ideas and initiatives on Pacific regional community-building.”(Dent, 2008:120). One factor in APEC’s formation arose from the situation at the end of the Cold War whereby there was a growing market-driven economic interdependence which “created fresh opportunities for regionalism.” (Feinberg, 2008:67). Significantly, APEC was in an ideal position to benefit.(Beeson (2006:1). Since inception, the main agenda of APEC has focused on trade and investment liberalisation, although it has also focused on Economic and Technical Cooperation (Ecotech) and Trade Facilitation; these are known as the three pillars of APEC). In the initial years there was enthusiasm and optimism for APEC’s potential for the enhancement of regional economic integration. However the Forum’s progress has stumbled on a number of obstacles along the way. One such obstacle has been the irreconcilable national interests of member states which have ‘impeded the organisation’s progress, as well as that of Asia-Pacific trans-regionalism generally.’ (Dent, 2008:144). This argument is used in support of the neo-realist assessment of APEC. Furthermore, neo-realists argue the sub-grouping of nation states as well as the competing interests for hegemonic position and influence of more powerful nations, such as China and Japan, have been additional obstacles to APEC’s success. As a consequence APEC has been labelled as being ‘all talk no action,’ and a mere ‘talk shop’ which has been very much ‘adrift’. (Ravenhill, 2001, Dent 2008, Beeson 2006). On the other hand there are those who argue that “the very existence of APEC, linking countries of enormous diversity, a grouping that spans Southeast and Northeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean, is itself an achievement.” (Ravenhill, 2001:220). This concurs with the neo-liberal institutionalist evaluation of APEC which highlights the organistaion as being “essentially a tool for managing the interdependent links and interests that have developed amongst a regional group of states.” (Dent, 2008:144). The neo-realists view identifies a ‘lack of consensuses between APEC member states (Ravenhill, 2000) as being a principal weakness to the core agenda of trade and investment liberalisation. At the launch of APEC at the first Ministerial Meeting 1989, the Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke referred to the Paris based organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as a possible model for the new transpacific multilateral forum (Morrison, 1998:318) . This was in recognition of the membership diversity, the East Asian member concerns, and the lack of enthusiasm for previous (unsuccessful) initiatives such as PAFTA, PBEC and PECC. The new OECD style model put an emphasis on consultation activity rather than on the negotiation of formal agreements. As Ravenhill (2000:321) importantly recognises, this model was not meant to be “a forum for trade negotiations and APEC initially was not intended to be either.” However this all changed in 1992 with the inauguration of an Eminent Persons Group (EPG) which sought to develop a collective ‘future vision’ of APEC on how it should best progress. Its first report recommended that a programme for trade and investment liberalisation measures be implemented by all APEC members (APEC1993). Otherwise known as the Bogor Goals, APEC’s leaders agreed in the Eminent Persons Group’s second report to “complete the achievement of our goal of free trade and open trade and investment in Asia-Pacific no later than the year 2020”...
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