Issues and meetings at the APEC forum in Lima

The Asia-Pacific leaders who gathered in Peru supported the recommendations adopted at the recent G20 summit in Washington, promising to uphold free market principles and reform the financial sector. The APEC summit also included President Medvedev’s final meeting with outgoing US President Bush.

The APEC summit in Lima, Peru, has closed. Russia was represented by President Dmitri Medvedev, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, and a number of business leaders: VneshTorgBank (VTB) President and CEO Andrei Kostin, Basic Element supervisory board chairman Oleg Deripaska, and Gazprom Deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev.

The main topic at the summit was the global financial-economic crisis. As expected, the Asia-Pacific leaders who gathered in Peru supported the recommendations adopted at the recent G20 summit in Washington, promising to uphold free market principles and reform the financial sector in their respective nations. Among the important results of the APEC summit, observers noted the commitment to “refrain from erecting any new barriers to investment or trade in the next 12 months,” and to resume global trade talks in December.

The APEC forum’s decisions are only advisory, of course, and as yet there is no evidence of the USA, the European Union, or China being prepared to make any concessions to each other for the sake of greater liberalization in international trade. But observers have hastened to describe the APEC decision as “declaring war on protectionism.” The joint statement adopted by APEC leaders also mentions the need to increase funding for the IMF, the World Bank, and the Asian Bank of Development.

So far, the forecasts are not reassuring: the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted Andrei Kostin as saying that according to participants in the APEC advisory business council meeting, the crisis could last about two years. Oleg Deripaska said that Russia would hit “the bottom of the crisis” around March or April 2009.

Among the bilateral meetings at the APEC summit, Medvedev’s talks with President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso were particularly interesting. This was Medvedev’s final meeting with the outgoing US president (Barack Obama will replace Bush on January 20). Bush’s remarks at the start of their meeting were interpreted somewhat differently for Medvedev, judging by the translation posted on the Kremlin’s website: “We have had our differences and agreements along the way, but in any event I have tried to keep our relations within the bounds of cordiality.” What Bush actually said was this: “We’ve had our agreements, we’ve had our disagreements. I’ve tried to work hard to make it a cordial relationship, though, so that when we need to work together we can, and when we disagree we’re able to do so in a way that is respectful to our two nations.”

According to White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, the two leaders were cordial but frank. They discussed the financial crisis, the events surrounding Georgia, and Iran’s nuclear program. Later on, Lavrov said: “Both presidents confirmed that we still have our differences, but there was a unanimous wish… not to get hung up on these differences… but to work on solving practical issues.”

Medvedev’s meeting with Taro Aso was no less interesting. Diplomats took note of Medvedev’s statement, which sounded very promising for Japan, in response to the Japanese prime minister’s call for regulation of the border dispute over the South Kurile Islands. Medvedev said: “There is no such thing as an unsolvable problem, Mr. Prime Minister. Look at the delegations we have here. Let them apply their efforts to doing something useful.” A few hours after the meeting, AFP quoted a Japanese government source as saying that “the two leaders ordered government officials ‘to begin concrete work.'”