APEC began as an informal dialogue group in 1989, but has since become the premier forum for facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region.
In 1993, an APEC Secretariat was established in Singapore to support the activities of the forum.
Key to achieving APEC's vision are what are referred to as the 'Bogor Goals' of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by 2010 for industrialised economies and 2020 for developing economies. These goals were agreed by APEC Economic Leaders in Bogor, Indonesia in 1994.
To achieve these goals APEC member economies developed a framework in Osaka, Japan in 1995, which set out three key areas of cooperation. Sometimes known as the 'Three Pillars' of APEC, these are the areas of Trade and Investment Liberalisation, Business Facilitation, and Economic and Technical Cooperation.
APEC has 21 members referred to as ‘member economies.’ The term ‘member economies’ is used because the APEC cooperative process is predominantly concerned with trade and economic issues, with members engaging with one another as economic entities.
APEC's 21 member economies are: Australia; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; Chile; People's Republic of China; Hong Kong, China; Indonesia; Japan; Republic of Korea; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Peru; The Republic of the Philippines; The Russian Federation; Singapore; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; United States of America; and Viet Nam.
APEC and the WTO are complementary in that both are working towards the same goals of free and open trade and investment across borders.
APEC operates on the basis of non-binding commitments, open dialogue and equal respect for the views of all participants. Unlike the WTO or other multilateral trade bodies, APEC has no treaty obligations required of its participants. Decisions made within APEC are reached by consensus and commitments are undertaken on a voluntary basis.
APEC operates with the consent of the Economic Leaders and Ministers of APEC member economies who meet throughout the year to chart the future of trade and investment cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. At the highest level, the leaders of APEC member economies are the custodians and guardians of the APEC process.
At the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting that is held at the end of each year, a declaration is issued which lays out the priorities for APEC over the following year. Ministers representing various portfolios, Senior Officials and members of various APEC forums meet throughout the year to launch new initiatives, track the progress of existing programmes and implement directives from the leaders.
APEC member economies benefit from being a part of APEC at many levels. At a multilateral level, APEC brings together the views of 21 member economies, the business community and other parties to attend to issues that impact on the Asia-Pacific region. APEC is a meeting place of ideas, concerns and plans for the future growth of the region.
For developing economies, APEC provides additional benefits in areas such as the development of procedures, policy frameworks and systems to deal with contemporary issues. These issues range from transparency and governance to financial sector reform and customs procedures. There are numerous APEC forums, working group meetings and seminars throughout the year in which representatives from developing economies have the opportunity to learn new skills and best practices from other economies.
Developing economies also have the opportunity to help set APEC's agenda and have as much say as some of the largest economies in the world.
For businesses from APEC member economies, the most obvious benefits are the reduction in barriers and impediments to trade across borders.