21-member APEC pushes trade agenda

Manila Bulletin | 11 July 2008

21-member APEC pushes trade agenda

Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

The 21-member countries of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), seen to be playing a crucial role in pushing for the conclusion of the stalled Doha Development Round of the WTO, are moving ahead with its agenda of improving market access and substantial reductions in market-distorting measures in agricultural trade in light of the soaring food prices.

A report by the Philippine team of negotiators to the recent APEC Trade Ministers meeting in Arequipa, Peru, stated that Ministers have called for an urgent conclusion of the Doha Round as it is a significant factor in coming up with a feasible solution to the serious global food problem.

The Philippine team was headed by DTI Senior Undersecretary Thomas G. Aquino. He was supported by Special Trade Representative Jose Antonio S. Buencamino of the Philippine Mission in Geneva and the Bureau of International Trade Relations (BITR) staff.

The current food price escalation has also been a vital topic of discussion and Trade Ministers emphasized the importance to achieve improvements in market access and substantial reductions in market-distorting measures in the agricultural trade, the DTI team reported.

Thus, the urgency of a successful conclusion of the Doha Round is a significant factor in coming up with a feasible solution to this serious global problem. APEC Ministers also agreed on the importance of increased support to food aid programs and to ensure that they are not market-distorting in nature.

WTO director-general Pascal Lamy has sought the commitment and support of the APEC Ministers to achieve the goal of successfully concluding the Doha Round this year.

APEC was actually initiated by the U.S. as a lobby group in the multilateral trade group, WTO. With the stalled Doha Round, the APEC could be an option for a smaller group of countries to undertake a free trade area.

During the meeting, Lamy has emphasized the importance and urgency of bringing the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations to a prompt and successful conclusion with a balanced and ambitious outcome which will adequately address market access and developmental goals.

During the ministerial meeting on May 31 to June 1 in Arequipa, Peru, the APEC ministers responded positively to Lamy’s call as they discussed topics such as Support to the Multilateral Trading System; Food prices escalation; Regional Economic Integration (REI); Trade and Investment Liberalization and Facilitation (TILF); Structural Reform; and Corporate Social Responsibility.

APEC Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the Bogor Goals, and discussed various means to achieve APEC’s objective of promoting economic growth and prosperity through free and open trade and investment and increased regional economic integration (REI).

This also included the long-term prospect of a Free Trade Area for Asia and the Pacific (FTAAP), which will require further intensive work among the member economies.

The Philippines, Indonesia and China remarked that the FTAAP was only one of the means to achieve the Bogor Goals.

The more crucial issue was whether developed member economies were set to achieve their commitments in 2010, or were using only the FTAAP to evade this objective.

In this regard, the Philippines suggested an earlier timetable of 2009 at the latest.

The Ministers further stressed that high-quality and comprehensive RTAs/FTAs are key to strengthening regional economic integration and achieving APEC’s Bogor Goals by increasing trade and investment liberalization in the region.

In line with this is the development of model measures for RTAs/FTAs chapters as capacity-building tools and non-binding references to achieve such type of high-quality agreements, and to promote greater consistency and coherence among the RTAs/FTAs in the region. Likewise, the Ministers endorsed the model measures for the chapters on (a) competition policy; (b) temporary entry for business persons; and (c) environment.

The Ministers also endorsed the Investment Facilitation Action Plan (IFAP) for 2008-2010, which aims to strengthen regional economic integration, competitiveness, and sustainable economic growth, and consequently will contribute to expanding prosperity and employment opportunities in the Asia Pacific region.

The importance of Structural Reform was also acknowledged by the Ministers as well as the necessity to focus efforts on "behind the borders" reforms to promote sustainable growth and improve efficiency of markets in the Asia Pacific.

Corporate Social Responsibility is an issue that complements and supports APEC’s agenda of promoting economic development and improving the business environment in the region.

The Philippines supports the APEC efforts along the lines of promoting corporate social responsibility as part of a long term business and management strategy, and at the same time recognizing that globalization has brought about changes in business practices.

The APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), however, emphasized that corporate social responsibility is voluntary on the part of the private sector, and that the government has the primary responsibility for community and social development, advancement and empowerment.

The Philippine team also held bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Canada, Chinese Taipei and New Zealand.

The meeting with Canada, with a photo opportunity, served as the venue for the formal announcement on the conclusion of the Philippines - Canada Air Transport negotiations which was held in Vancouver on 13-15 May 2008.

New Zealand, on the other hand, reiterated its positions in relation to the ASEAN - Australia/New Zealand FTA negotiations on: (a) overall coverage of tariff commitments; (b) MFN treatment on services and investment; and (c) the Treaty of Waitangi.

The meeting with Chinese Taipei focused on the issues which are considered important factors to ensure the successful outcome of the RP-Taiwan Joint Economic Committee (JEC) Meeting which was held in Taipei in June (e.g., importation of gravel and sand from RP, bilateral Economic Corridor Agreement, ATA Carnet Agreement, avoidance of double taxation, and the RP-Taiwan IPR MOU, among others.(BCM)

source: Manila Bulletin