KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum began a virtual meeting on Friday to seek ways to revive their coronavirus-battered economies, with U.S. President Donald Trump participating for the first time since 2017.
The leaders' meeting was also the first since 2018 after last year's host, Chile, canceled the annual summit due to violent domestic protests.
Trump's participation came as a surprise as he challenges the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, won by Joe Biden. Last weekend, Trump skipped the East Asia Summits and withdrew from speaking at an APEC CEO meeting earlier Friday.
This year's host, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, said APEC, whose members account for 60% of global GDP, has a central role in spearheading the post-pandemic economic recovery.
“We need to trade and invest our way out of the current economic downturn. We must come together and work constructively towards navigating the region along a path of robust, inclusive and sustainable economic recovery and growth," he said in his opening remarks.
Muhyiddin urged nations to stay united in combating COVID-19 and ensure that vaccines and health technologies are made affordable and accessible to all.
APEC leaders are expected to discuss new development goals for the next 20 years, replacing what is known as the Bogor goals that were named after the Indonesian town where leaders agreed in 1994 to commit to free and open trade and investment.
Earlier Friday, the leaders of Japan and New Zealand warned countries against the temptation of retreating into trade protectionism.
Speaking by video link from Tokyo to the meeting of APEC CEOs, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said a “free and open Indo-Pacific will be the cornerstone for the prosperity of this region."
Japan and 14 other Asian neighbors on Sunday signed the world’s largest free trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Suga, who took office in September, said Japan will next push for a wider free trade pact among the 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
“Amidst a risk of inward-looking temptations in the face of the slump of the global economy, making rules for a free and fair global economy is critically important," he said. "While continuing to promote WTO reform, Japan will aspire for the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who spoke to the CEOs after Suga, voiced hope that APEC leaders will agree on a growth vision that focus on free trade, digital innovation, and sustainability and inclusion.
“As we confront this generation’s biggest economic challenge, we must not repeat the mistakes of history by retreating into protectionism. APEC must continue to commit to keeping markets open and trade flowing," she said.
APEC brings together Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.