By Praveen Menon and Shashwat Awasthi

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum vowed on Friday to address economic recovery in the region by shoring up supply chains, tackling labour issues and continuing to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a joint statement after a virtual meeting hosted by New Zealand, the leaders of the 21-member grouping also pledged to work together to address climate and environmental challenges.

“With the COVID-19 crisis far from over, we are determined to use all available macroeconomic tools to address the adverse consequences of COVID-19 and sustain economic recovery, while preserving long-term fiscal sustainability,” the leaders said in their joint statement.

“We will intensify efforts to ensure goods continue to flow even under challenging circumstances.”

The summit of the Pacific Rim countries came amid heightened regional trade and geopolitical tensions, particularly between China and the United States, and global efforts to tackle the pandemic and the climate crisis.

Addressing APEC leaders at the summit, U.S. President Joe Biden underscored his commitment to strengthening the U.S. relationship with APEC economies “in order to advance fair and open trade and investment, bolster American competitiveness, and ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Biden said the climate crisis was an enormous opportunity to create good jobs and that countries must work together to move towards a sustainable future, according to a White House statement.

“The President discussed ways to unleash the economic power of the region and to deepen U.S. economic engagement throughout the Indo-Pacific,” the statement said, without elaborating.

China’s President Xi Jinping told the meeting that economic and technological cooperation is important for the bloc and should receive further investment, Chinese state media reported.

Speaking via video link, Xi also said China would “unswervingly” expand its opening up to the outside world and share China’s development opportunities with the world and Asia-Pacific countries, state broadcaster CCTV said.

The APEC summit came ahead of a much-anticipated online summit between Biden and Xi expected on Monday. U.S. officials have said they believe direct engagement with Xi is the best way to prevent the relationship between the world’s two biggest economies from spiralling toward conflict.

China set the tone for the APEC meeting with Xi warning in a video recording on Thursday that the region must not return to the tensions of the Cold War era.

The comment was seen as a reference to efforts by the United States and its regional allies to blunt what they see as China’s growing coercive economic and military influence.

Speaking ahead of the expected Biden-Xi meeting, a Chinese official said Beijing was also keen to avoid confrontation and focus on “positive competition,” while pushing for cooperation on issues such the climate crisis and ending the coronavirus pandemic.

A framework deal on boosting cooperation to tackle climate change, unveiled by the two countries at the U.N. climate conference in Scotland, sent “quite a positive signal” for the upcoming summit, the official said.

APEC is the last multi-lateral meeting of the year and comes after a flurry of gatherings including the high-profile G20 summit in Rome and the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow, Scotland.

The leaders’ statement made no mention of a U.S. offer to host the gathering in 2023. Officials have said a consensus had not been reached on this proposal and a source told Reuters that Russia had not backed the proposal.

One U.S. official said all but one country had backed the offer, which requires the consensus of all 21 economies. “One economy is still undergoing consultations and has not yet joined consensus. We hope this impasse is resolved quickly to ensure we can continue the positive momentum on economic cooperation through APEC,” the official said.

The APEC summit will be held in Thailand next year.

During a session on Friday, German chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated the importance of vaccinations in the fight against the pandemic. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern then paid tribute to the outgoing chancellor.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal and Susan Heavey in Washington and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Michael Perry, Raissa Kasolowsky and Andrea Ricci)