New Zealand’s APEC moment is virtually here – Newshub

Posted: November 7, 2021 at 12:13 pm

These came both at the APEC summit itself and at three state visits held immediately afterwards for the Chinese, South Korean and US presidents.

It is difficult to overstate the significance of these visits.

Jiang Zemin's visit was the first to New Zealand by a Chinese president.

His presence undoubtedly helped Wellington to forge closer ties with Beijing.

New Zealand was a strong supporter of China's bid to join the WTO, which was finally approved in 2001.

The growing ties culminated in the signing of a free trade agreement between China and New Zealand in 2008.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton's visit was the first by a sitting US President to New Zealand since Lyndon Johnson's brief visit to Wellington in 1966.

More broadly, APEC 1999 marked the beginnings of a more confident, free trade-focused pathway for New Zealand's foreign policy that continues to this day.

For Wellington, one of the biggest legacies of APEC 1999 was the agreement on the sidelines by Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and her Singaporean counterpart Goh Chok Tong to launch free trade negotiations between the two countries.

Talks began soon after APEC and an agreement was signed in 2000.

It was Singapore's very first bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) and only New Zealand's second, after a long-standing deal with Australia.

At the time, the negotiations seemed to be a way for New Zealand to hedge its bets.

Much of the APEC 1999 leaders' declaration focused on supporting the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations that were set to begin later that year.

Essentially, by testing the waters and taking the FTA route with Singapore, New Zealand was giving itself a back-up option a prudent move given later WTO failures.

APEC meetings continued to play a pivotal role in New Zealand's strategy.

At the 2002 APEC summit in Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore began talks with Chile to expand the agreement into a three-way deal.

Brunei, another APEC member, subsequently joined the agreement which became the P4.

In turn, the P4 became the genesis for what turned into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership or CPTPP.

Fast-forward to 2021 and the APEC story is very different.

A spirit of post-Cold War optimism and cooperation has long since dissipated.

The US-China tensions that were amicably resolved at APEC in 1999 seem minor by today's standards.

The virtual format for this year's meetings is also having an impact.

New Zealand took the decision to shift all APEC events online in June 2020.

Given the uncertainties over COVID-19 and the scale of APEC, this was the right decision.

It brings both opportunities and costs.

Around 1000 hours of virtual meetings have been held since the beginning of New Zealand's APEC year in December 2020.

These meetings included July's surprise extra APEC leaders' summit arranged at short-notice and focused on the COVID-19 response as well as many other events for ministers and officials.

Some useful outcomes have resulted from these, such as undertakings among APEC economies to speed up vaccine distribution by reducing tariff and other barriers for designated medical supplies such as syringes.

But the lack of in-person meetings means that it is difficult if not impossible for leaders to forge or develop any real rapport with one another.

Providing such a varied group of leaders with a venue to build relationships has always been APEC's strong suit.

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New Zealand's APEC moment is virtually here - Newshub

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