The sudden and unprecedented cancellation of a major annual gathering of world and industry leaders "couldn't come at worse time" for the global economy, New Zealand's business representatives say.

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has announced his country will not be hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit next month or a UN global climate gathering in December as the nation faces protests that have seen more than a dozen people killed.

There have been 13 days of demonstrations across the South American country, with protesters demanding improved economic equality and public services.

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The Apec summit brings together leaders from 21 Pacific Rim countries each year – representing about half of the globe's GDP – as well as chief executives from some of the world's biggest companies.

The meeting was due to start in about two weeks and it now looks set to be the first time it won't be held since the first summit in 1989.

US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping looked set to ink the first stage of a trade deal at the summit in Santiago, in a sign of possible easing of a tit-for-tat tariff escalation between their countries. An alternative venue is now being sought for that deal.

New Zealand's delegation this year would have been led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and included deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Trade Minister David Parker, and handful of chief executives.

Ardern on Thursday described the situation as disappointing.

"It would have been a venue where we could have talked about those increasing trade tensions," she said.

"None of us benefit from some of the trade wars we've seen in recent times, and forums like Apec are forums where we can seek solutions."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the summit would have been a chance to work through trade tensions. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the summit would have been a chance to work through trade tensions. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Part of the summit also includes a meeting between political leaders and APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) – a group made up of three businesses representatives from each member nation.

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Alternate member for New Zealand's ABAC group, Stephen Jacobi, said that meeting, lasting between 90 minutes and two hours, was key to highlighting the concerns of business to politicians.

"Critically the dialogue that the ABAC members have with world leaders won't happen," he said.

He said issues due to be raised this year included support for international trade system and the World Trade Organization, the need to promote more inclusion in trade, and digital economy issues.

Those discussions were critical given the on-going trade war between China and the United States, spreading protectionism and concerns about global trade.

"It's very hard to calculate what this means in actual dollars and cents, but it couldn't have come at a worse time," Jacobi said

But he said there was a great deal of sympathy for Chile and an understanding its government needed to deal with its domestic situation.

Meanwhile, the United Nations says it's looking for an alternative venue for the COP25 climate talks, which Chile was due to host in December.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said, while it was too soon to say, he expected the meeting could be delayed to early next year in the search for a new host.

The gathering would have been a chance to hammer out the last undecided parts of the rulebook for the Paris climate agreement, along with other efforts to cooperate on reducing emissions.

"If those things don't happen, it just means you're missing the key coordination mechanism between countries on how they cooperate on climate change," he said.

"This is the last conference before the Paris Agreement takes place … There is a huge amount of momentum and work being done to get things in place. It's an important conference."

New Zealand is due to host Apec in 2021 and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had said the event will be going ahead in Auckland, despite a fire that tore through the SkyCity Convention Centre that was set to house the event.

Alternative facilities are now being decided on.