The leader of Papua New Guinea, host of this year’s APEC summit, Friday urged respect for international trade rules by “countries large and small” as spats between the US and China threatened to overshadow the gathering.
As leaders from Asian Pacific nations prepared to fly in to Port Moresby for their annual meeting, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill appeared to call his guests to order on damaging trade rows.
“Smaller economies, countries like Papua New Guinea, place considerable reliance on international trade and especially the international trade rules,” stressed O’Neill.
“We suffer when rules are broken or ignored and we benefit when rules are followed by all countries, large and small,” he added.
The world’s top two economies have been engaged in a spiralling trade conflict that economists have warned could be catastrophic for the global economy.
Washington and Beijing have slapped tit-for-tat tariffs worth billions of dollars on each other’s goods and both sides have threatened to escalate the conflict if needed.
China is pushing a trade deal with other Asian powers like Japan and India — a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the rival Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The TPP is still alive even without Washington — and will come into effect in December — but RCEP, if realised, will be the world’s biggest trade deal.
Beijing had hoped to have the meat of the deal done by the end of this year, but the timetable has now slipped to 2019.
Foreign ministers meeting ahead of the APEC summit, which kicks off on Saturday, failed to agree immediately on a joint statement amid disagreements over language on reforming the World Trade Organisation.
The United States is thought to be pushing for tough language criticising the WTO and urging root-and-branch reform but appears to have run into opposition.
O’Neill seemed to come to the WTO’s defence, saying that Papua New Guinea was “playing an increasing role, like everyone else, in international forums such as the WTO”. “We must continue that. We must continue to benefit from such arrangements,” said the prime minister.