BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – APEC needs to restore market confidence to promote early economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, Brunei’s monarch said on Friday.

Speaking via video link at the APEC leaders’ summit, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah said the grouping needs to revitalise trade and investment as the world continues to grapple with COVID-19.

Global economic growth has shrunk 4.4 percent year-on-year due to the crisis.

APEC must advocate for a pro-business climate by pursuing structural reforms, strengthening trade facilitation and economic integration, the sultan said during the meeting hosted virtually by Malaysia.

He also urged fellow leaders to press on with talks for a proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.

COVID-19 will be a test of APEC’s relevance as an economic cooperation platform that has benefitted the people, he added.

His Majesty said as an APEC member and ASEAN chair for 2021, Brunei looks forward to working closely with all APEC member economies to continue economic revitalisation in a post-COVID world.

The 2020 APEC summit was hosted virtually by Malaysia due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Leaders set aside differences on Friday and released their first joint declaration in three years, calling for “free and predictable trade” to help a global economy devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

APEC countries failed to reach agreement in 2018, after talks were stymied by discord over trade and investment between the United States and China, and last year’s gathering in Chile was cancelled due to violent street protests.

“The impact of [the US-China] trade war has been eclipsed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin told reporters after the meeting.

“APEC has also pledged to refrain from backtracking and resorting to protectionist measures to keep markets and borders open,” he said.

Outgoing US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping also attended the virtual summit, with the latter saying Beijing will “actively consider” signing up for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), an agreement the US pulled out of in 2017.

Commenting on the impact of the US-China trade war, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that US trade policies under Trump had caused “very slow” progress in APEC in recent years, adding that he expected “more multilateralists” in the Biden administration.

New Zealand will take over the APEC chairmanship from Malaysia next year, and has already said it will continue the virtual format due to the ongoing global health crisis.

“As we confront this generation’s biggest economic challenge, we must not repeat the mistakes of history by retreating into protectionism,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday at the APEC CEO Dialogues.

“APEC must continue to commit to keeping markets open and trade flowing.”