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APEC might form unilateral FTA: Official

02 November 2004

APEC might form unilateral FTA: Official

Zakki P. Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation member countries are displaying a growing tendency in favor of establishing a unilateral free trade agreement in the vast region, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Trade.

The ministry’s director general for international cooperation Pos M. Hutabarat said on Monday that as more APEC countries established bilateral FTAs, there was a debate going on about whether to push this trend further to a unilateral agreement.

The U.S. and Singapore, for example, have signed a bilateral FTA.

"APEC has been all about building corridors for facilitating bilateral talks, but now I see a tendency to push for a full APEC free trade area. A unilateral agreement," he said.

However, it was not immediately clear whether the establishment of a unilateral FTA would result in APEC meetings that would involve binding negotiations.

Leaders from 21 Asia Pacific economies will meet in Santiago, Chile, on Nov. 20 and Nov. 21 for the 12th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting.

APEC has been a non-binding negotiating forum, with no sanctions being imposed on countries that refuse to implement the outcome of APEC meetings.

"Thus, we have no specific trade targets for coming meeting, but merely seek ways to establish bilateral FTAs with fellow members," Pos told reporters after signing a Memorandum of Understanding on technical assistance from the government of Canada.

Canadian Ambassador to Indonesia Randolph Mank, together with Pos, signed an MOU outlining Canadian assistance to Indonesia under the C$6.4 million APEC Economic Integration Program, which, among other things, is aimed at enhancing the knowledge and skills of government officials responsible for dealing with World Trade Organization (WTO) affairs.

The money is available to APEC members Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, and two non-APEC countries, Laos and Cambodia. But it is not clear how much money Indonesia will actually get.

"This project is in response to APEC leaders’ support for capacity building to help developing member countries integrate into the world economy and improve growth prospects," Mank said.

According to Pos, Indonesia lacked capable trade negotiators even though the country faced more international trade negotiations in the future.

"In the Ministry of Trade, we only have around ten negotiators. We hope to have at least 50 new negotiators when the program ends in 2009," he said, adding that the program would also train negotiators from other relevant ministries, such as the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Agriculture.

He said that the Ministry of Trade might also facilitate training for a limited number of journalists covering international trade issues.

Pos said that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was likely to address the upcoming APEC meeting as Indonesia currently heads the APEC working group on security. This could be Susilo’s first overseas trip since becoming the country’s President.

"The meeting is also a perfect occasion for the President to meet other leaders without having to visit their respective countries," Pos said.

 source: Jakarta Post