The Great Recession has been painful but quick for most of Asia — and leaders gathering for a regional summit here this week are seeking to ensure the recovery stays on track.
Lavish stimulus spending, bolstered by relatively healthy regional finances, is helping perk up economies around the Pacific Rim, with China leading the way.
But sustaining the region's economies once stimulus ebbs is the next challenge, and leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum say the focus must now shift to freer trade. On Tuesday, Singapore broached the issue with an ambitious call for an Asia-Pacific free trade area that would comprise about half of global trade.
George Yeo, foreign minister of Singapore, which is host to the 21-member APEC forum did however acknowledge that consensus for a global agreement remains elusive. "But let’s keep pushing in that direction through bilateral and regional free trade agreements, creating a positive, competitive dynamic," he said.
Among those attending the November 14-15 leaders' summit are US President Barack Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who lead the three biggest economies in the world.
Fellow APEC leaders will be looking to Obama, visiting Asia for the first time since he took office in January, to map out the US strategy on global trade after a year devoted to crisis control and domestic distractions.
"Asia cannot boom if the West is not booming," Standard Chartered Bank chief economist Gerard Lyons wrote in a report last week. "The trouble in Asia is still its export dependency."
The draft declaration for this year's summit calls for focussing on improving opportunities for all segments of society and strengthening social resilience through well-designed social safety nets.
Such strategies would also free consumers in Asia to save less and spend more, helping to redress the excess reliance on American consumption.