Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation: Meaning, Overview, History

What Is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)?

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is an economic group of 21 members, formed in 1989, with the primary goal of promoting free trade and sustainable development in the Pacific Rim economies.

Key Takeaways

  • The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is a 21-member economic forum that was established in 1989.
  • APEC is made up of countries, including the U.S., that promote free trade and sustainable development in Pacific Rim economies.
  • APEC engages in multiple micro causes, such as intellectual property rights and emergency preparedness, and has many sub-groups that aim to advance policy and awareness.
  • APEC has been fundamental in reducing tariffs, improving customs efficiency, and closing the gap between developing and developed economies.


Understanding the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)

APEC's principal goal is to ensure that goods, services, capital, and labor can move easily across borders. This includes increasing custom efficiency at borders, encouraging favorable business climates within member economies, and harmonizing regulations and policies across the region.

The creation of APEC was primarily in response to the increasing interdependence of Asia-Pacific economies. The formation of APEC was part of the proliferation of regional economic blocs in the late 20th century, such as the European Union (EU) and the (now-defunct) North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Nations Comprising APEC

The founding members of APEC were Australia, Brunei, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and the U.S. Since its launch, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Peru, Russia, and Vietnam have joined its ranks.

APEC refers to its members as economies rather than as states due to the focus on trade and economic issues rather than the sometimes delicate diplomatic issues of the region, including the status of Taiwan and Hong Kong. The People's Republic of China (PRC) refuses to recognize Taiwan because it claims the island as a province under its constitution. Hong Kong, meanwhile, functions as semi-autonomous regions of China and not a sovereign state.

Official observers of APEC include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC), and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation's (APEC) Actions and Goals

At a landmark summit meeting in 1994, APEC announced a lofty goal of establishing free trade and investment regimes in the Asia-Pacific region by 2010 for members with developed economies. The group hoped to achieve those same goals for its developing economy members by 2020.

APEC provides funding for approximately 100 projects annually, with around USD 15.4 million made available in 2018.

In 1995, APEC adopted the Osaka Action Agenda, a program designed to facilitate business activities, liberalize trade and investment and promote economic and technical cooperation. However, progress on these efforts has somewhat slowed, due to APEC’s culture of making all decisions by consensus. While some decisions are unanimous, they are not legally binding on the member governments.

Sub-Groups of APEC

APEC maintains a policy support unit to provide research and analysis to support the organization's goals for the region, as well as special working groups to explore and promote various issues and components of economic development. These groups engage in multiple micro causes that aim to advance policy and awareness. Examples of these sub-groups include:

  • Gender Issues: APEC sponsors a policy partnership on women and the economy to advance the economic integration of women. An estimated 600 million women are currently in the region’s labor force.
  • Intellectual Property Rights: APEC's Intellectual Property Rights Experts' Group (IPEG) studies and exchanges information regarding the enforcement of intellectual property rights protections in the region. It promotes and facilitates cooperation to implement the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
  • Emergency Preparedness: APEC's Emergency Preparedness Working Group (EPWG) promotes business resilience, public-private partnerships, and information sharing among members to help build the region's capacity to deal with emergencies and natural disasters. Economies along the geologically and climatologically active Pacific Rim are subject to events such as tsunamis, typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.
Article Sources
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  1. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. "About APEC."

  2. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. "1994 Leaders' Declaration."

  3. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. "Projects - 2020."

  4. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. "Action Plans."

  5. Asia-Pacific Economic Development. "Policy Support Unit."

  6. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. "Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy."

  7. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. "Intellectual Property Rights Expert Group."

  8. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. "Emergency Preparedness Working Group."

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