5 topics to watch at Harper's APEC meeting in Russia

Here's a look at what the leaders from the 21 APEC nations, who are meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, this weekend, could be talking about.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives for the APEC summit in Vladivostok, Russia Friday. APEC leaders will discuss trade and the economy, but it's also an opportunity for Harper to raise other issues with his Russian hosts. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives today in Vladivostok, Russia, for APEC 2012, the gathering of leaders from the countries belonging to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation.

For two days, beginning Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin will play host at a venue specifically constructed on an island for the APEC forum. Russky Island measures 18 kilometres in length and just 13 kilometres in width and normally has a population of about 5,000 people. But it will be invaded by delegations from APEC's 21-member nations for a brief period this weekend. Here are some of the topics — on and off the official agenda — that could come up at the meeting.

Trade talk: One of APEC's primary goals is to encourage free trade among member countries, and Canada is actively trying to open doors wider in the region. At Russky, face-to-face meetings will be key to advance talks that are already underway and to get new ones started.

'We'll keep pushing on as many fronts as we can. With the global economy in the condition that it is and threats from Europe continually on our mind, we need to be where the growth is and right now that’s Asia-Pacific.'—Andrew MacDougall, director of communications for Stephen Harper

Canada is pursuing tighter ties with China, recently launched free trade talks with Japan,  is in an exploratory phase with Thailand and just announced a new permanent trade presence at the soon-to-be-opened embassy in Burma.

A lot can change between APEC meetings on the trade front.

At last year's gathering in  Hawaii in November, Harper announced that Canada wanted to join the club of countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The official invitation was extended in June and now Canada's trade officials have added the TPP to their "to-do list."

Food security:  Improving food security, amid rising food prices and global population, is a priority for APEC and is on the official agenda in Russia. The countries are talking about how to increase food production, open up supply chains and reduce waste.

Senior Canadian officials say not to expect any major new commitments to be announced, but that Canada will be happy to talk about how it has met its previous commitments. Food security has been at the forefront of Canada's international assistance program according to senior government officials.

Syria: The violence in Syria isn't on the APEC agenda but it's likely to come up since the host country, along with China, has blocked resolutions at the United Nations Security Council that condemn President Bashar Assad.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, visited the media centre Thursday at the site of this weekend's APEC meeting. (Associated Press)

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada would raise Russia's lack of co-operation at the meeting and Harper's director of communications said the prime minister will make it clear that Canada wants Assad out of office. "It doesn't matter who the prime minister's talking to, he'll make our position well known there," MacDougall said.

Whose North strong and free? The Arctic has been a source of tension between Russia and Canada before and both countries are increasingly talking about developing natural resources in their northern territories.

On Harper's annual trip to the North this summer, he talked repeatedly about the region’s economic potential and the importance of Canada's Arctic sovereignty. His office hasn't announced yet whether he will have a bilateral meeting with Putin, but if he does, maybe Harper will recap the highlights of his travels to the North.

He might also emphasize how Canada is taking over as chair of the Arctic Council in 2013. Russia is also a member of the eight-country group.

Pussy Riot: The Russian punk band Pussy Riot has been making headlines since February when members were jailed for a performance inside a Moscow cathedral that criticized President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church. They were put on trial, convicted of hooliganism and sentenced to two years in prison.

Protests were held around the world and groups like Amnesty International said the case was politically motivated and a blow to freedom of expression in Russia.

Where does Canada stand on Pussy Riot? Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's office has said that Canada believes strongly in the rule of law, administered independently and without political bias. Pussy Riot’s been one of the hottest topics in Russia, attendees might be buzzing about the case and how their host handled it.