Delegates from the United States, Canada and three other nations staged a walkout on Saturday when a representative from Russia began his opening remarks at a meeting of trade ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group in the Thai capital, officials said.

A Japanese official said Japanese Trade Minister Koichi Hagiuda and his counterparts from the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand walked out of the meeting in Bangkok to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A statement from the office of New Zealand Trade and Export Growth Minister Damien O’Connor said he walked out “in protest at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has slowed the region’s economic recovery from COVID-19 and made it harder for people in the region to get food on their tables. He walked out in good company.”

A U.S. official in Bangkok confirmed the walkout but did not provide further details. He asked not to be identified. There is diplomatic sensitivity over speaking about the incident because the proceedings were held in closed session. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is representing Washington at the meeting.

‘Must keep the pressure on’ Russia

International Trade Minister Mary Ng is Canada’s representative at the talks, and a media spokesperson confirmed she was one of the delegates who walked out.

“Canada has already taken many actions to hold Russia accountable for its devastating invasion of Ukraine, including severe sanctions against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and those who enable him, but we must keep the pressure on,” Alice Hansen, a spokesperson for Ng, told CBC News.

Russian Minister for Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov attends the APEC meeting in Bangkok on Saturday. Delegates from five nations staged a walkout on Saturday when he began his opening remarks at the meeting, officials said. (Kyodo News/The Associated Press)

Thailand is this year’s host nation for meetings of APEC, which comprises 21 economies. The two-day trade ministers meeting ends Sunday.

The walkout occurred just as Maxim Reshetnikov, Russia’s minister for economic development, was set to deliver his opening remarks, said a Southeast Asian diplomat, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

Delegates later returned

He said the delegates of the five protesting nations and their staff walked out together in what appeared to clearly be a planned action and returned after Reshetnikov completed his remarks.

Western nations have imposed tough diplomatic and economic sanctions on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine, but many APEC member nations, especially in Southeast Asia and Latin America, have distanced themselves from such moves. The war in Ukraine has raised major trade issues because it has disrupted supply chains, especially in the food sector.

APEC was launched in 1989 to boost growth by promoting economic integration and trade among its members.