APEC Summit USA 2023

APEC Summit USA 2023

This year’s APEC Leaders’ and CEO Summit USA 2023 took place over the course of two days from November 14th to the 16th in San Francisco. The Leaders’ Summit, which rounds off the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week and annual cycle, is one of the most influential business and governmental meetings concerning the Asia-Pacific. The San Francisco Summit enabled important discussions between CEOs, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, key stakeholders, and world leaders from the Asia-Pacific region. Leaders from the 21 APEC economies, global CEOs, and delegates engaged in dialogue on global opportunities and challenges that dictate economic, environmental, and societal trends in the region. 

The APEC Economic Leaders’ Week brought together major stakeholders under the theme of Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Future for All, to explore collaborative avenues for growth, while improving sustainability, inclusion, resilience, and innovation. 

Throughout the 2023 APEC cycle, meetings took place on topics of sustainability, digitalisation, women’s economic empowerment, trade facilitation, energy security, food security, and health.

The roster of APEC leaders who were invited to speak in San Francisco included presidents of the United States, China, Indonesia, Korea, Chile, Peru, Vietnam and the Philippines, and the prime ministers of Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore. Colombia, Fiji, and India were the invited economies at the Leaders’ Summit, The CEO Summit was co-chaired by Kevin Ali (CEO of Organon), Mary Barra (CEO of General Motors) and Alfre F. Kelly Jr. (Executive Chairman of Visa). Putin who faces sanctions due to Russia’s war on Ukraine, thus, Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Overchuk attended as the representative for Russia,

APEC serves as a key platform to advance economic interests in the Asian-Pacific region. However, conversations in 2023 had centred on US-China relations. This was driven by the bilateral meeting between US President, Joe Biden, and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, that would be taking place on the sidelines of the Summit. This meeting, which took place among tense geopolitical tensions between the two countries, marked the first time the leaders met face-to-face in a year. 

The San Francisco Agenda

The priorities for San Franciso were, “Interconnected, Innovative, Inclusive”. During the US’s host year, it aimed to make progress on issues such as supply chain resilience, digital trade, connectivity, opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises, climate change and sustainability. Women’s economic empowerment, and the support for historically-underserved and underrepresented communities were the focus for building inclusive societies. On the business front, businesses were seeking new opportunities in growing markets, following the US’s declining market share in the Indo-Pacific region

The first day of the Summit  had two main focuses, titled: “Conversations on Sustainability” and “Conversations on Inclusion”. Various experts and stakeholders explored sustainability-related topics including a just energy transition, alternative/renewable energy, climate change adaptation and mitigation, sustainable finance, and sustainable trade policy. The second conversation on inclusion touched on topics such as broadening access to economic opportunities, nurturing small businesses and entrepreneurs, and expanding opportunities for education and training.

The second day revolved around “Conversations on Resilience” and “Conversations on Innovation”. The first session highlighted climate-smart infrastructure development, partnerships for disaster and recovery, and strengthening social safety nets. The conversation on innovation consisted of topics on harnessing the power of human creativity, entrepreneurial energy, and technology to foster growth, building, and supporting “innovation incubators”, promoting start-ups and entrepreneurship, and finally, AI and the impact of new technologies on business and society.


As the host for the 2023 APEC cycle, the US advanced its priorities through three policy agendas:

  • The Manoa Agenda for Sustainable and Inclusive Economies
  • The Digital Pacific Agenda
  • The Bay Area Agenda on Resilient and Inclusive Growth

The Manoa Agenda focused on implementing APEC’s sustainability and inclusion objectives by supporting global efforts to address environmental challenges. Outcomes under this agenda included the endorsement of the Non-Binding Just Energy Transition Principles for APEC Cooperation that was endorsed by the Energy Ministers, the launch of an APEC Coastal Resilience Framework, and intitating the development of the Seattle Framework on Gender Equality and Climate Change,

The Digital Pacific Agenda saw APEC economies working together to shape the rules, norms, and standards that govern the digital economy. This consisted of the APEC economies endorsing the Principles for Facilitating Access to Open Government Data, and APEC Trade Ministers endorsing Principles for the Interoperability of E-Invoicing Systems, among other dialogues and forums that were being initiated to advance digitalisation.

The Bay Area Agenda centred on advancing long-term robust, innovative, and inclusive economic growth that could endure unpredictable challenges going forward. Outcomes under this agenda included an endorsement of the 2023 APEC Economic Policy Report on Structural and an Enabling Environment for Inclusive, Resilient, and Sustainable Businesses that provides recommendations to policymakers to enable businesses to contribute towards social goals, and the Detroit Non-Binding Principles and Recommendations for Equality and Inclusion in Education, Training, and Employment.  

At the conclusion of the 2023 APEC Leader’s Summit, member economies endorsed the Golden Gate Declaration. The outcome document consisted of commitments to build on the Bangkok Goals on the Bio-Circular-Green Economy of the previous year’s Summit, and an endorsement of the San Francisco Principles on Integrating Inclusivity and Sustainability into Trade and Investment Policy. The latter aims to incorporate environmental sustainability and social inclusivity in the development and application of trade and investment policies to support balanced economic growth, positive environmental outcomes, and social-wellbeing of all peoples. Trade and investment in circular economy approaches and clean energy transitions are major priorities supported by these principles. The next steps to implementing these principles are increasing information-sharing between economies, and voluntary capacity-building programmes

In addition to the Golden Gate Declaration, the Leaders Summit also issued a Chair’s Statement that addressed the ongoing crises in Ukraine and Gaza. The statement detailed how “most members strongly condemn the aggression against Ukraine and underscore the need to reach a just, and lasting peace based on the principles of the United Nations Charter”, and linked the situation in Ukraine to exacerbating fragility in the global economy. On the situation in Gaza, the Chair’s Statement only alluded to the fact that member economies “exchanged views” and “shared their respective positions”. The Chair’s Statement concluded by noting that, “[s]ome Leaders objected to the inclusion of this language in the accompanying 2023 APEC Leaders’ Golden Gate Declaration on the basis that they do not believe that APEC is a forum to discuss geopolitical issue”. Much like the G20 Summit in New Delhi that year, APEC was not without internal disagreements between its members over the ongoing geopolitical conflicts.

US-China Relations

US-China relations building up to the meeting were at a low point, following increasing competition in trade and tension over Taiwan. Questions over Hong Kong’s representation also complicated relations between the two. In 2020, the US had imposed sanctions on Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Officer, John Lee, for his role in implementing the national security law that targeted pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong. The consequences of these sanctions suggested that Lee would be prevented from attending the APEC Summit. No country has the power to bar another APEC member from attending the Summit. China had called for the sanctions to be lifted and for Lee to be invited to the Summit. , Eventually, and perhaps with US-China bilateral relations in mind, the Hong Kong government announced that Lee would not be attending due to “scheduling issues”, and Financial Secretary, Paul Chan, would be present instead.. 

Given the current environmental and economic crises facing the international system, the cooperation of these two leading nations is ever more pressing. With Xi skipping the G20 Summit in India, there was doubt cast on his attendance at APEC. However, confirmation of a meeting between Biden and Xi around the APEC Summit generated hope that this would be an opportunity to for both leaders to meet to ameliorate relations and prevent the competitive relationship from becoming open confrontation. The bilateral meeting resulted in an agreement to resume military-to-military communications, a commitment to curb illicit fentanyl production, discussions over Taiwan, Artificial Intelligence, and the climate crisis, and a general commitment to maintain further communication. 

Experts claim that the meeting made modest progress. The commitment to open communication channels is an important outcome, and marks a moment of temporary stabilisaton of the US-China relationship. Success on the other agreements will be dependent on how the relationship between the two states evolves in the next few months. Issues like the fentanyl crisis can contribute to strengthening the relationship further by providing a concrete area for the two states to work together, thus capitalising on the momentum generated at the Summit. 

Others were less optimistic about the gains the meeting’s contribution to building trust between the US and China, alluding to Biden’s characterisation of Xi as a “dictator” that came shortly after the bilateral meeting, and drew opposition from China’s Foreign Ministry. Other experts focused on the talks around military engagement, and argued that none of the discussions on this front produced anything new that would meaningfully address the military tensions between the countries.

Fast forward a few months after the bilateral meeting, and Xi and Biden have maintained an open line of communication, with a phone call in April 2024 that marked the first time two leaders engaged following the APEC Summit. The call focused on the US’s attempts to restrict high technology exports to China, that the US argued were in favour of ensuring national security. China argued that the restrictions undermined its trade and technology development, and created risks for the bilateral ties between the two countries. The phone call between the leaders is part of a series of engagements between the two countries that aims to strengthen their relationship.

The APEC 2023 Summit renewed commitments to addressing environmental concerns while promoting economic growth, and added momentum to implementing this commitment. It also underscored the need for economic growth to be inclusive to ensure its durability in the face of unexpected shocks in the region. However, these outcomes were overshadowed by Xi-Biden meeting.  Arguably, US-China relations have a significant influence on broader Asia-Pacific relations, which will have APEC members relieved to hear of an overall positive meeting

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