SYDNEY (AFP) – India and around 10 other countries will remain excluded from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum for at least three years, Australian Prime Minister John Howard announced Sunday.
“We agreed to revisit the issue of membership in 2010,” Howard said at the end of APEC’S annual summit in Sydney, at which the accession of India to the regional grouping was discussed.
Backed by Australia, which hosted this year’s summit, India has been knocking on the door of the forum for years and had been hoping the end of a 10-year moratorium on new members from 1997 would help its case.
India believes its geographical location, trade and investment interaction and the size of its economy all serve to strengthen its bid to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which was set up in 1989.
No reason was given for the exclusion of new members, but immediately before announcing the moratorium would continue, Howard said: “Leaders also endorsed a number of measures to strengthen and professionalise APEC as an institution.”
That would fit with a reported recommendation by senior officials that APEC should first consolidate its existing work before any enlargement.
But there were also suggestions that while Australia backed India’s entry some unnamed Western countries were concerned that it would tip the balance of power in the organisation towards Asia.
Philippines’ chief trade negotiator Jose Antonio Buencamino told reporters that the western members were not opposed to admitting smaller countries such as Panama and Colombia, but drew the line at India.
“Once the Indians come in, the weighting would become heavier in this part of the world,” he said on the sidelines of preparatory meetings last week.
Aside from India, other potential APEC candidates include Colombia, Ecuador, Macau, Mongolia, Pakistan, Panama, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
APEC groups Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.