Revolution Online, October 27, 2011

What APEC Is…And Why People Should Protest Against It

The 2011 APEC meeting is taking place against the backdrop of 1) continuing instability and crisis in the world economy, 2) a situation in which East Asia in particular represents one of the few regions of dynamic economic growth in the world, and 3) a time when China has surpassed Japan to become the world's second largest capitalist economy, and is asserting its strategic interests in the world, and economically challenging the United States.

APEC was established in 1989 and currently has 21 member countries (or "economies," as they like to call them) with borders on both sides of the Pacific Ocean1. APEC's member countries account for approximately 40% of the world's population, 54% of the world GDP and about 44% of world trade.

APEC's stated mission is to "champion free trade and open trade and investment" to "facilitate a favorable business environment" and to establish a Pacific "free trade zone" similar to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Zone). Using code words like "free trade," "deregulation," and "liberalization," APEC's policies pry open the economies of its member countries to foreign investment and control, and give imperialist powers and transnational corporations the "right" to take out whatever resources they want. Deregulation of industries, environmental laws, and labor laws enables corporations to move more freely between countries, chasing the regions where profits are the highest, and privatization opens up government owned and/or controlled lands and companies to private ownership and control. The major economic powers, particularly the U.S., Japan, and China, use APEC to advance their geo-economic agendas.

The United States has historically played the dominant role in APEC and promotes a package of economic policies known as the "Washington Consensus." Its central features include free markets, trade liberalization, deregulation, financial liberalization and "structural adjustment" or "fiscal discipline." This economic policy shifts government funding away from social spending and toward the privatization and liberalization of the economy. As a result of policies established by APEC, small-scale, sustainable and indigenous agriculture has been destroyed and replaced by corporate agribusinesses Small rice farmers in Vietnam and the Philippines have been driven out by agribusiness. Huge silver and copper mines in Papua New Guinea have displaced entire villages and created enormous regions that are uninhabitable due to air and water pollution. Subsistence agriculture has been greatly undermined in the poorest countries, forcing people to migrate to cities where they are caught in a never-ending cycle of either unemployment or work in slave-like conditions. Environmental restrictions have been lifted, allowing uncontrolled plunder of natural resources. Regulations controlling the energy sector have been removed and the cheapest and most destructive forms of energy (petroleum, coal, hydro and nuclear) are being promoted.

The social consequences of these policies have contributed to an ever-growing economic gap between rich and poor. In Indonesia, which APEC upholds as the poster child of economic growth, the number of poor people has soared, and more than 80 million live on less than $1 a day. Urban China has experienced enormous income growth over the past decades, even while there has been a huge increase in urban and rural poverty. Education, housing, and medical care, which were previously either free or subsidized by the state, have been privatized. Grain and fuel prices have been deregulated, causing enormous price fluctuations.

Many APEC countries point to rising income levels of sections of the poor as proof of reducing poverty levels. But this rise in income is often the result of massive migration from rural areas to the cities, where food, housing and health costs are higher. So the statistics about rises in income does not give a full or accurate picture of the real situation. For example, fuel prices have risen more than 100% in both Indonesia and the Philippines, while wages have increased only marginally.

APEC policies of deregulation and privatization have accelerated the destruction of the environment; for example, 65% of the native forests of Sumatra have been deforested.

While APEC boasts of its successes in creating a "favorable business environment" in Indonesia, 1.8 million hectares of land have been deforested annually for the international timber and palm oil industries. The government of New Zealand has privatized its national energy sector, and its mountaintops are being removed to extract coal for China. In Papua New Guinea indigenous villages have been evacuated to make way for silver mines, where native people now work in conditions that condemn them to an early death.

The APEC 2011 Summit in Honolulu is of strategic importance to the U.S. imperialists in the face of the current world financial crisis, the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating, and increasing competition from China. And the compulsion at this meeting will be to introduce and promote even more destructive policies that will protect and strengthen U.S. domination at the expense of the majority of the people in the region and the planet's environment.

1. Member countries include: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, United States and Vietnam. [back]

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