General Motors Public Policy Conference

Singapore, 15 April 1999
  • Speech by Ambassador Timothy Hannah, Executive Director, APEC Secretariat
Thank you, welcome to Singapore to the visitors, and happy tax day to you Americans. I presume your presence here means you sent your returns in well ahead of time.
I'm grateful for this opportunity to brief some hard-working friends of APEC on the organization's progress under New Zealand's chairmanship. I know you are not new to APEC, so I can dispense with the introductory material and focus on activities and expected achievements this year.
But first let me say thank you for the support GM has provided to APEC. Your and your chairman's involvement in the APEC Business Advisory Council has helped make ABAC a credible voice of business interests in the Asia-Pacific region. APEC values ABAC's suggestions and needs continued business input and support to achieve its objectives.
Ongoing Agenda
Important progress is being made this year in all three of APEC's main lines of work: trade liberalization, business facilitation and economic and technical cooperation. Much of the work, alas, is fairly unsexy stuff that doesn't make juicy headlines but is nonetheless valuable to our business constituents.
In that vein, let me digress a moment to address the commentaries one regularly sees asserting that this year is "APEC's last chance." It seems that it has been APEC's last chance for several years running. Inevitably, the media focus on the big year-end events, attach unrealistic expectations - like solving the financial crisis in two days - to them, and ignore the practical benefits APEC produces during the other months of the year.
We recognize that progress in APEC often isn't as fast as business would like. But it's a diverse, consensus-based organization; the objective - free and open trade and investment in Asia-Pacific - is ambitious; and the deadline, 2010/2020, is still fairly distant. However successfully New Zealand's year is rated, I predict APEC will be around for a while, long enough to reach that objective and on schedule.
Strengthening Markets
One key unifying theme for New Zealand this year is the idea of strengthening markets. The financial and economic crisis has shown up the need to improve the functioning of markets, and APEC is committed to make a contribution. For example:
APEC is continuing its work on the internal competition and regulatory frameworks employed by member economies. As a step towards the achievement of a competition framework for APEC, New Zealand will be proposing that APEC Leaders endorse a set of competition and regulatory principles when they meet in September. These principles will stress the need for markets to be open, transparent and well governed. The aim is to provide a "tool kit" of policies that APEC member economies can draw from as they continue down the path of economic reform.
The Blueprint for Electronic Commerce begins implementation this year with programs to enhance the uptake of e-commerce, especially by the region's smaller firms. APEC is also doing its bit to raise awareness of the Y2K problem, with a big symposium next week here in Singapore.
A key aspect of strengthening markets is the need to address human resource weaknesses, to ensure that all APEC members enjoy the benefits of market systems. APEC this year is launching a skills development action plan based on public-private partnerships in vocational training.
I believe such programs highlight APEC's continuing relevance in these difficult economic times. It is now widely accepted that liberalization must be married with technical cooperation programs that build economies' capacity to benefit from liberalization. APEC has always stressed a balance between these two aspects of the reform process.
Response to the Financial Crisis
APEC this year is also making an important contribution to the international response to the Asian financial crisis, though this work could equally be listed under the rubric of strengthening markets.
A range of collaborative initiatives are underway in the APEC Finance Ministers process to strengthen financial markets and build regulatory capacity, while preserving the long-term thrust toward liberalization. APEC is clearly not a crisis-management outfit like the IMF. Instead, our goal is to address some of the longer-term market weaknesses that contributed to the crisis.
  • Projects are underway to strengthen members' training systems for financial supervisors and to assess the adequacy of banking supervisory regimes in key economies;
  • Recommendations are being floated for developing domestic bond markets;
  • Experts are looking into the quality of credit rating agencies' work and efforts to harmonize regional accounting and disclosure requirements;
  • A Regional Forum on Pension Fund Reform will examine public and private roles in pension administration, part of APEC's work on social safety nets; and
  • The Finance Working Group is collaborating with the World Bank and ADB to develop recommendations for measures that economies could take to strengthen corporate governance.
APEC is also addressing the social impact of the crisis, with efforts underway in the Finance Ministers process, the Human Resource Development WG, and analytical support by the Economic Committee. In sum, without spending millions of dollars, APEC is making a credible contribution to addressing the impacts of the financial crisis and to preventing a future recurrence.
Early Voluntary Sectoral Liberalization
(Slide 4) Also under trade liberalization would be the APEC initiative to liberalize trade in 15 key sectors ahead of the 2010/2020 timetable. As you know, it was not possible to reach agreement on all sectors in KL, so the tariff elements of the initiative have been moved to the WTO, where initial consultations have begun. As APEC Chair, New Zealand is coordinating discussion of those elements, now known as the Accelerated Tariff Liberalization (ATL) initiative, in Geneva.
But the sectoral initiative also includes business facilitation and ecotech components that are moving forward in APEC. In particular, efforts will be made to identify the various non-tariff barriers to trade in these sectors as a first step toward removing them. Business input to this exercise would be very valuable.
In addition, APEC is in the process of finalizing agreement on the remaining six sectors, including implementation of action on non-tariff measures, facilitation and ECOTECH elements. Progress in the WTO and on the remaining six sectors will be considered by Trade Ministers in June 1999.
WTO Contribution
APEC's support for the multilateral trading system has been a given since its inception, and this year is no exception. With the WTO Ministerial meeting in November/December 1999 due to take place shortly after the APEC Leaders Meeting, APEC has a major opportunity this year to influence the shape of further multilateral trade negotiations under the WTO. New Zealand is keen to see comprehensive trade negotiations launched as soon as possible after December.
Communicating the Benefits of Liberalization
Another New Zealand aim this year is to communicate the benefits of market reforms and trade liberalization to wider audiences, to broaden understanding of and support for APEC by the general public. As Chair, New Zealand is taking a lead in carrying out a substantial program of domestic outreach, as well as working with other economies on developing tools for more effective communication with communities. As part of this effort, a seminar on communicating the benefits of trade liberalization will be held in Auckland on June 28.
Business Involvement
Finally, I'm sure it's well known to this audience, but I will reiterate anyway that we are continuing efforts to expand business involvement in the APEC process. Key upcoming events include:
  • An SME Business Forum later this month in Christchurch
  • An APEC Business Symposium in Auckland in late June
  • And the ABAC Dialogue with Leaders and APEC CEO Summit in Auckland in September
Besides these large events, we are also encouraging regular contacts between ABAC and other business representatives in the many working-level meetings of APEC sub-groups. I know that GM is an active player in APEC's growing public-private partnership, including through the newly established Automotive Dialogue, and we welcome your continued involvement.
The APEC Secretariat here in Singapore is the core support organization for APEC and we do what we can to facilitate business contacts. We're at your service.
Please consult our website where you will find additional information about APEC.