Trade deals must embrace APEC

TVNZ, New Zealand

26 August 2004

Trade deals must embrace APEC

Asia-Pacific free trade has to be front and centre of any bilateral trade deals struck in the region, a key American business leader says.

Mike Ducker, executive vice-president international of freight transport giant FedEx, said the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s (APEC) stated goal of free trade between developed nations by 2010 would be undermined if bilateral trade deals failed to take the organisation into account.

And he warned bilateral trade deals could create a spaghetti network of rules and regulations that would make life difficult for business.

Ducker is one of the United States’ three representatives on the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) which recently finished up talks in New Zealand.

FedEx itself is a major supporter of international free trade and was one of the businesses backing the recent ascension of China to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Ducker said the plethora of free trade agreements, such as that struck between Australia and the US recently, was a sign that many nations were keen to enjoy the benefits of open trade.

But he said such deals would do little if they did not have at their heart the so-called Bogor goals of APEC, which is for free trade between the group’s developed nations by 2010 and by all members by 2020.

"I think that the Bogor goals need to be more visibly highlighted in any sort of trade agreement that is done," he said.

"Otherwise you’re kidding yourself if you don’t have the Bogor goals at the centrepiece of the agreement.

"If you don’t factor them into your agreements, then we may not get the Bogor goals."

The Australia-US free trade deal failed to even mention the Bogor goals or the commitments made by both nations under APEC.

Ducker said multilateral trade agreements delivered far more benefits than bilateral or regional agreements, but they had a place in freeing world trade.

He said the push for bilaterals was a sign of the frustration felt by some nations that wanted free trade as quickly as possible.

Although there were no problems with bilaterals, Ducker warned the sheer number of them would eventually cause problems for business if they were not uniform.

"I think you risk a spaghetti bowl, or a wiring design with all sorts of lines," he said.

"I think it’s important and it makes it much easier to connect the lines if they are uniform under WTO rules."

Ducker said he was optimistic about the chances of the Doha round of world trade talks being successful.

He said the recent breakthrough in Geneva was a positive that would energise the rest of the negotiations.

But he cautioned that unlike the Uruguay round of trade talks that dragged on for more than seven years, the Doha round had to be much faster.

Advances in telecommunications and the internet meant governments and businesses wanted trade talks to move quicker.

"I don’t believe we have as much time to complete the Doha round as we did with the Uruguay round," he said.