In 1997, APEC set a 10-year moratorium on new membership and agreed in 2007 to consider the issue in 2010. The moratorium was introduced due to concerns that increasing members may make it difficult for the forum to reach agreements and thus lose its influence.
But last November, at their annual summit in Yokohama, Japan, APEC leaders decided not to extend the moratorium.
"Keeping in mind the benefits of APEC membership as well as the need for efficiency to achieve results, we will continue to review the question of APEC new membership going forward," they said in their declaration.
India has discussed the membership issue with Indonesia, the current chair of the 21-member APEC, whose leaders will meet Oct 5-7 in Nusa Dua, Bali, for the summit.
"We had a good conversation with Indonesia," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said on his return from the East Asia Summit foreign ministers' meeting, ASEAN ministerial conference and the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Brunei in July.
Besides India, there are 11 other economies which are said to have applied for membership. They include Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Laos and Colombia.
There is now a growing view that keeping the moratorium intact for a long time may not help APEC in achieving its objectives, given that other groupings like the East Asia Summit has countries such as Japan, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, which belong to both the East Asia Summit and APEC. Also, all the 10 ASEAN members belong to the East Asia Summit, but only some of them are APEC members.
"APEC includes not just East Asian economies but several trans-Pacific ones, in tune with India's emerging interest in economic ties with Latin America," say former US diplomats Teresita C. Schaffer and Howard B. Schaffer, asking Washington to bring in India to APEC.
APEC consists of Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Russia, Taiwan, the United States and seven ASEAN members-Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
And, there are members, who believe that India has to be brought into the framework. They feel that a network of strong relations among the region's major players be fostered as China's economic and military power expands, and India joining APEC would present significant geopolitical value, and potential economic rewards.
Australia has backed India's inclusion to the club.
When APEC was formed in 1989, India's economic policies were inward-looking, inconsistent with the grouping's goal of "free and open trade and investment". Since then, India has opened up, integrated with the region and the world. India is now the third largest economy in Asia.
"APEC 'economies,' in the term members prefer, have links beyond the purely governmental. APEC coordination mechanisms between economic regulators and among private companies could strengthen both India's e'onomic integration into the region and its export ompetitiveness, to everyone's b'nefit," the Schaffers, long time South Asia watchers, wrote recently.
Karl F. Inderfurth, the former assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, and Donald A Camp, the former principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, also urge Washington to take the step. "We should bring India into APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership discussions", they say.
As it straddles the waters of the Indian and the Pacific oceans, which contain the world's most vibrant trade and energy routes linking economies and driving growth, India's Look East policy now extends to the Pacific. "It has to go beyond ASEAN. We are actually looking at Indo-Pacific now," says Khurshid.
The region figured in last week's talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama.
Analysts say membership would involve India implementing economic reforms and trade liberalisation, which would reinforce the strategic and economic interests that its Look East policy has long recognised.
APEC is a meeting place of ideas, concerns and plans for the future growth in the Asia-Pacific region. Developing economies have the opportunity to help set APEC's agenda.
For businesses from APEC member economies, the most obvious benefits are the reduction in barriers and impediments to trade across borders.
The Bali summit has prioritised three objectives: maintaining momentum for trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, achieving sustainable growth with equity, and promoting connectivity.
APEC members account for roughly half of the world's economic output.
"We are not in the APEC yet. Once we get into the APEC then it gives us further opportunity" to take on a larger role throughout Asia-Pacific, Khurshid told the Strait Times.
(Saroj Mohanty can be contacted at email@example.com)
--IANS (Posted on 04-10-2013)