Kyodo | Nov. 5 2009
APEC to assign Japan to develop proposals for Asia Pacific FTA
Leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will set Japan, the next APEC chair, the task of identifying ways for the 21-member grouping to create a free trade bloc in the future, according to a draft statement they are expected to issue at their Nov. 14 to 15 summit in Singapore.
The draft APEC leaders’ statement said APEC is to come out with the proposals by the end of next year, thus effectively assigning Japan, which holds the chairmanship of APEC next year, the task of overseeing that embryonic process of developing a giant free trade area encompassing a region that already accounts for nearly half of the world’s trade.
’’We will continue to put in place building blocks towards a possible Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific in the future,’’ said the statement, drafted on Oct. 31, a copy of which was obtained by Kyodo News.
’’Specifically, we instruct officials to develop by the end of 2010 a range of possible pathways to achieve FTAAP,’’ referring to the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific — an idea that has been floated in recent years but is seen as a long-term goal so far.
However, the Asia-Pacific free trade area could be at odds with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s own proposal in recent months for an ’’East Asian community’’ that is more confined to East Asia.
The statement said APEC is also expected to come out with a report card in Japan next year on the progress of APEC’s more developed member economies in achieving their 2010 targets for trade and investment liberalization.
Japan’s chairmanship of APEC and its hosting of the next summit in Yokohama toward the end of next year coincide with the year the more developed APEC member economies are supposed to achieve their goals of trade and investment liberalization.
Under the Bogor goals set by APEC leaders at their summit in Bogor, Indonesia, in 1994 and implemented under the Osaka Action Plan charted by leaders at their summit in Osaka in Japan the year after, more developed APEC member economies have pledged a target of 2010 to achieve freer trade and investment and less developed members by 2020.
’’We direct Ministers and officials to report to us next year with a meaningful assessment of how far the industrialized APEC economies have met the target of achieving the Bogor Goals by 2010,’’ the draft statement said.
It also spoke of the need to ’’build an Asia-Pacific community,’’ which some APEC officials view as a specific reference to a proposal that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been pushing in recent years, although APEC has used the term in a general way in its past statements before.
’’But our common goal remains the same — free and open trade and investment, to promote growth, create jobs, reduce business costs, and build an Asia-Pacific community,’’ the statement’s opening paragraph declared.
Rudd’s idea for an Asia-Pacific community has met with a mixed and lukewarm response from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations when he floated the idea at meetings with their leaders over the past two years while China also pointedly rejected the idea earlier this year, saying conditions are not ripe for such a community.
This year’s APEC chair Singapore, being a close ally of the United States, is seen as more supportive toward initiatives that include rather than exclude Washington.
The draft statement also urged the Doha Round of global multilateral trade talks to be concluded in 2010 and expressed concern that ’’the high level political commitment to concluding the Doha Round has yet to be translated into substantive progress in the negotiations.’’
’’We are ready to exercise all possible flexibility in order to accelerate the pace in negotiations,’’ it said.
On the issue of tackling climate change, the statement also expressed hope for a successful global climate summit in Copenhagen next month. ’’We believe that global emissions will need to peak over the next few years, and be reduced to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050,’’ it said.
On the global economic slump this past year, the statement said the ’’economic recovery is not yet on a solid footing’’ and APEC member economies ’’will maintain our economic stimulus policies until a durable economic recovery is secured.’’
It urged member economies to develop ’’a comprehensive long-term growth strategy that supports more balanced growth within and across economies, achieves greater inclusiveness in our societies, and sustains our environment.’’
The leaders will also pledge to accelerate regional economic integration, including making it easier for companies to conduct their business activities in the region, calling for a 25 percent improvement in ’’five key areas’’ by 2015, and 5 percent by 2011.
APEC members together account for about 54 percent of the world’s economic output and 43 percent of global trade.
The non-binding multilateral forum was launched in 1989 and its current members are 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.