Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation—the organization better known as APEC—may not be a household name to most Americans, but plays an important and influential role in shaping the international economic and trade environment, as well as US economic engagement with the Asia Pacific region. Washington State has a unique relationship and connections with APEC that continue to shape the organization, its initiatives and traditions today.
Established in 1989, APEC is a consensus-based regional economic forum including 21 member economies across the Asia Pacific that represented approximately 2.8 billion people, 59% of world gross domestic product (GDP), and 49% of world trade in 2015. APEC’s role is to leverage growing regional interdependence to increase growth and prosperity “by promoting balanced, inclusive, sustainable, innovative and secure growth, and by accelerating regional economic integration.” The organization has guided successful initiatives to facilitate new trade across the region including reduced barriers to trade and investment, efforts to advance regulatory reform and harmonization, streamlined customs procedures, increased supply chain connectivity, and greater ease of business travel.
In 1993, APEC convened in Seattle for a meeting that set the forum on a new trajectory and established several precedents. Held at the Tillicum Village longhouse at Blake Island State Park in Puget Sound, it was the inaugural summit meeting for all of the leaders of APEC member economies, called by then-US President Bill Clinton. The meeting elevated APEC to a new level of ambition and activity, articulated in the Leaders’ Declaration announced there. It built momentum for successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round of negotiations of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, leading to the establishment of the World Trade Organization. A formal APEC secretariat was established in 1994 in Singapore, and the APEC Summit in Bogor, Indonesia that same year resulted in the Bogor Goals calling for free and open trade and investment among industrialized APEC member economies by the year 2010 and developing economies by 2020. These goals have driven APEC’s agenda and shaped regional multilateral trade initiatives spanning the region. The Seattle summit also featured the first APEC leaders’ “family photo,” which has become a signature tradition.
APEC’s legacy lives on in Seattle. Headquartered there is the National Center for APEC (NCAPEC), a business organization that works to facilitate US private sector input into the APEC process. NCAPEC was created in 1994 following the call by APEC leaders in Seattle for the private sector to identify issues the forum could address to facilitate increased trade, investment, and business networks in the region. More broadly, APEC’s initiatives to facilitate new trade, investment, and capacity building across the Asia Pacific continue to support Washington State-based manufacturers, information technology and services companies, and farmers and ranchers in expanding their business connections around the Pacific Rim. In 2015, exports of goods from Washington State to APEC member economies totaled $59.8 billion, while the state’s imports of goods from APEC member economies totaled $42.7 billion.
Sean Connell is a guest contributor to Asia Matters for America. He is employed by the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County (Washington), and is a former Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington.