APEC is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which is an organization of countries in the Pacific who want to facilitate better trade and communication. APEC was formed in 1989 as a free-trade bloc, similar to NATO and the European Union. Some of its members are considered to be “developing nations,” while others are considered “developed,” so APEC strives to promote economic agendas that help a diverse group of nations.
The adage that the rising tide moves all ships applies to APEC. While not all APEC programs and agreements have benefited all member economies, the overall quality of life for people in member economies has improved. APEC programs have helped raise the standard of living for people in both developed and developing countries by promoting better trade that ultimately benefits everyone involved. Consequently, APEC’s influence has been felt around the world.
There are 12 founding members of APEC, who were original signatories when the organization was formed in 1989. Those countries are the United States, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, New Zealand, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia, Canada, Brunei, and Australia. Since then, several other Pacific countries have joined, including Vietnam, Taiwan, Russia, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, China, Mexico, and Chile.
When people think of Pacific countries, they often think of countries in South Asia. Yet APEC represents the diversity of four continents: North America, South America, Australia, and Asia. The entire western coasts of North and South America – represented by APEC members Peru, Chile, Mexico, the United States, and Canada – is on the Pacific Ocean. Australia and New Zealand are islands in the Pacific, and China and Russia have an eastern border on the Pacific. All of the APEC countries have a border on the Pacific Ocean and stand to gain much through economic cooperation among other Pacific nations.
Members of APEC are not defined by whether or not they are independent states but by whether or not they have independent economies. As a result, APEC is defined by the economies of countries in it, and members are known as economies rather than nations, states, or countries.
Economies that are members of APEC represented a diverse spectrum of economic systems. China is communist, and Russia was once the flagship of the communist Soviet Union but is now somewhat capitalist. Most APEC economies run on a free-market system that, as opposed to communism, is not dominated by state control. Many have some form of socialism in their economic systems, within the range of free-market capitalism. For example, Canada has a free-market economy, but the government provides healthcare and other social programs for its citizens.
Because APEC was created to facilitate better trade and communication among countries in the Pacific, its goal is not the promotion of one economic system over another. Member economies have to work together, despite their differences in economic philosophies and market strategies, to promote trade agreements and foster cooperation that will benefit everyone involved. This goal can be challenging, as some member economies, such as the United States, Japan, and China, are much stronger than others, such as Brunei and Indonesia. These stronger economies can exert much more power over how APEC functions and the trade agreements among member economies, which can benefit them more than the weaker economies.
To help mitigate the effects of stronger, more dominant economies overpowering the influence of weaker economies in APEC, the organization has multiple committees, councils, and working groups. These sub-organizations research issues that affect APEC countries, such as fishing, tourism, economic trends, transportation, and climate change. They meet regularly to discuss these issues and how APEC can address them.
The meetings occur at different places in APEC member economies. Meetings have been held in Seoul, South Korea; Sydney, Australia; Busan, South Korea; Vancouver, Canada; and Shanghai, China, to name just a few places. Holding meetings in different areas helps ensure fair representation of all member economies. One side effect is that local problems can hamper conferences and/or cause unrest within APEC. For example, the 2019 APEC annual meeting was supposed to be held in Chile, but it was canceled because of civil unrest around issues such as the rising cost of living and police brutality. The 1997 APEC meeting in Vancouver caused controversy when the Royal Mounted Police used pepper spray against people protesting the meeting.
The countries that originally founded the APEC are the United States, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, New Zealand, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia, Canada, Brunei, and Australia, but the group also now includes Vietnam, Taiwan, Russia, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, China, Mexico, and Chile.