SINGAPORE – Stimulus spending and other emergency measures have set the stage for global economic recovery, but nations must push ahead with free trade and investment to ensure growth, President Barack Obama and fellow Asia-Pacific leaders said Sunday.
Obama and 20 other leaders, meeting in Singapore for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, rejected protectionism and agreed to develop long-term strategies that take into account the diverse needs of economies in a region stretching from Chile to China.
Recovery is not yet on solid footing and the region "cannot go back to growth as usual," Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, reading from a joint statement by the APEC leaders.
"We need a new growth paradigm. We need a fresh model of economic integration," they said. "We will pursue growth which is balanced, inclusive, and sustainable, supported by innovation and a knowledge-based economy, to ensure a durable recovery that will create jobs and benefit our people."
To that end, APEC members pledged to maintain economic stimulus policies until a durable recovery has clearly taken hold.
Nations must work toward "strong, sustainable and balanced global economic growth" with policies that expand opportunities for all, including women and small business owners; take better care of the environment; and promote development while reducing poverty and ensuring security, they said.
There was no mention of currency rates in the final statement, despite finance ministers' calls for maintaining "market-oriented exchange rates." That was a reference to the Chinese currency, the yuan, which critics say is kept artificially undervalued, making exports of other countries less competitive.
A push for concrete goals for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions was omitted from the statement. A previous draft had pledged a 50 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2050, but the final communique committed only to working toward "an ambitious outcome" at climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, next month.
Obama and other world leaders agreed Sunday that the Copenhagen summit will be merely a way station, not the once hoped-for endpoint in the drive for a new global climate-change treaty.
The World Wildlife Fund's Global Climate Initiative said leaders must begin taking stronger action.
"Deleting rather than strengthening emission reduction targets in their leaders' declarations — like they did here in Singapore — is certainly not a solution," spokeswoman Diane McFadzien said in a statement. "Leaders have to take the bull by the horns, and finally tackle the difficult questions, instead of constantly avoiding them."
APEC, which accounts for 40 percent of the world's population and 54 percent of global output, was created 20 years ago to promote trade and integration among Pacific Rim nations. Pledges are nonbinding, and the forum's scope has expanded to encompass issues such as climate change, energy and food security, and politics.
One key APEC goal is the creation of a free-trade area covering all 21 APEC economies — an ambition that many acknowledge is years away.
There had been concerns that the U.S., the world's biggest economy, and other nations might turn inward as they grapple with the worst global financial crisis in decades. Washington has been sitting on free-trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, and is embroiled in a dispute with China over tariffs slapped on Chinese-made tire imports.
But Obama added his voice to calls for expansion of free trade rather than resorting to protectionist measures. Leaders pushed hard for progress on talks to liberalize world trade and supported studies on the benefits of a future Asia-Pacific free trade area.
They also pledged to make it 25 percent cheaper, faster and easier to do business in Asia-Pacific by 2015.
Following the APEC meetings, Obama joined a summit with all 10 ASEAN leaders, including military-ruled Myanmar. The leaders are expected to urge Myanmar's junta to hold credible elections, but a joint statement obtained by AP stops short of demanding the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.
Singapore was Obama's second stop on a tour of Asia that began in Japan and will take him to China and South Korea.
Restaurants in multicultural Singapore had special dishes on the menu in celebration of the visit, including the Obama Burger at O'Leary's in the mall below the APEC convention center and Obama Chicken Rice, featuring yams, mushrooms, dried prawns and dark soy sauce.
"Of all the people coming, I only love Obama," food stall operator Alan Ng, who whipped up the Obama special, told the New Paper in Singapore.
One Irish pub has renamed itself O'Bama's. Its motto: "Change you can drink to."