'Change and action' is the theme for this week's Apec summit in Yokohama. John Armstrong says that for once, there may actually be some.
What happens when a slow-moving beast like Apec is being chaired by a country whose approach to free trade has been glacial at best?
Not a lot. Or so it might have seemed when Japan took its turn to host this year's round of meetings of the 21-member grouping of Asia-Pacific economies.
It seemed an unfortunate coincidence for the protagonists of open markets that Japan should be in charge of the agenda when the United States and other struggling economies are desperately looking to Apec to deliver on what the organisation calls its "new growth paradigm".
On top of that, this year's summit marks the deadline for industrialised members to remove all barriers to trade and investment.
When progress reports are released this week, the gap between some countries' rhetoric on free trade and their actual performance will be exposed for all to see.
Those who have come closest to that target are smaller economies like Hong Kong and New Zealand. While Japan's tariffs average around 5 per cent, it still imposes levels of around 20 per cent on agricultural produce. That import barrier can go as high as a staggering 600 per cent for some dairy products.
The question is whether Japan, as both the Apec chair and the world's third biggest economy after the United States and China, will break with its protectionist past and show real leadership on free trade. Or whether this year's Apec will be another lost opportunity for its members and an embarrassment for its host.
The jury is still out. But the indications so far point more to the former - much to the relief of countries like New Zealand which stand to gain the most from access to Japan's domestic food market.
The catalyst for Japan finally biting the bullet is the growing external threat to its no-growth economy. With rivals like South Korea stitching up bilateral free trade deals around the region, Japan's reluctance to open its own domestic market risks it being increasingly at a disadvantage in selling its products in other markets - including the United States - if it continues to shelter its farmers behind mountainous tariffs.
It is the negotiations surrounding a Pacific-wide free trade agreement, otherwise known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP for short, which have really brought matters to a head.
Unlike New Zealand, which is a founding member of the TPP club, Japan is not involved in those talks. The United States is now driving those negotiations with the other eight participating countries in order to wrap up a deal in time for next year's Apec - leaving Japan bypassed in the process.
Courting a huge backlash from Japan's powerful agriculture lobby, Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his government announced on Saturday that Japan would "commence consultations" with TPP members.
That falls short of a clear commitment to participate in negotiations. Neither did the announcement specify how willing Japan is to free up its market for farm products - a bottom-line condition of joining the TPP talks as far as New Zealand is concerned.
The TPP talks are predicated on the principle that member countries reduce all tariffs to zero - a big ask in Japan's case.
However, diplomatic soundings apparently suggest that Kan and his other ministers, who have big business backing for entering TPP talks, are serious about carrying through what amounts to a revolutionary change of policy.
That is reflected in the wording of a draft of the final communique to be officially released next Sunday at the end of the leaders' summit, but which has already been leaked.
The draft has leaders agreeing to take "concrete steps toward realisation of Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP)" which would encompass all 21 members around the Pacific. The TPP is a building block for FTAAP. By Japanese standards, that is progress.
Tomorrow's meeting in Yokohama of Apec trade and foreign ministers - which is held before the leaders' summit - will be seeking a stronger steer on Japan's intentions.
A positive response will lift some of the economic gloom hanging over this year's Apec proceedings.
John Armstrong will be in Yokohama reporting on this week's meetings.