Apec FTA proposal raising interest

New Zealand Herald | 17 November 2004

Apec free trade agreement proposal raising interest

A proposal for an Asia-Pacific free trade agreement is attracting significant interest at a ministerial-level meeting of member countries in Santiago, Chile, Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Mr Sutton is in Santiago for the meeting, which is setting the stage for the Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation) summit later this week to be attended by Prime Minister Helen Clark.

He told NZPA the proposal has come from Apec’s business advisory council, a private sector group closely involved in the organisation’s agenda.

"We’re talking about a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific that includes 60 per cent of the world’s economy because it includes the United States, Canada, Japan, China, Korea and other big players," Mr Sutton said.

"There’s a lot of interest in this proposal, although I sense it isn’t going to be adopted this year.

"It’s a bit radical for some of the members to digest all at once... it’s the sort of idea that will be a source of discussion and analysis for a year or two."

Mr Sutton said the basis of the proposal was that it would be open to any member country to join it, and those who did not want to would not have to.

"It would be a coalition of the willing, if you like, for trade liberalisation."

Mr Sutton said that would avoid the problem that is holding up World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations on trade liberalisation.

"The WTO has a way of negotiating that provides for any one member to in effect veto an agreement. It’s becoming increasingly unwieldy — the WTO will soon have 150 members."

He said the Apec proposal could provide a Plan B if the current round of WTO negotiations failed to reach a conclusion.

Apec was established in 1989 to bring the Asian and American economies together, with hopes of a Pacific rim free trade zone by 2010 for developed countries and by 2020 for developing countries.

Mr Sutton said there was some scepticism among members that the objectives could be achieved if all the member nations were to be part of it, and the Asia-Pacific FTA proposal was another way to make progress.

Apec comprises Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

— NZPA

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source: NZPA