The New Economy: Moving Customs-Business Partnership and Trade Facilitation to the Next Level

Shanghai, People's Republic of China, 12 August 2001
  • Speech by Ambassador Zhang Yan, Executive Director, APEC Secretariat
Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the outset, I would like to extend congratulations to our hosts for successfully organizing this APEC Customs Business Dialogue. I am very honoured to be given this opportunity to address this important event in my capacity as Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat and share some of my views with you.

APEC, born in 1989, is an important regional economic forum committed to the goal of promoting open and free trade and investment through intensifying regional cooperation, with an objective to achieve common prosperity for the people of Asia-Pacific region.

Today, with 21 member economies, and around 45% of world total population, 55% of global GDP and 46% of world trade volume, APEC has established itself as the primary regional vehicle promoting economic development and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. In spite of the slowdown, both in the global and regional economy in recent years, APEC forecast shows that its member economies still have much capacity to continue to grow. APEC trade will significantly outpace the world's total trade. And intra-regional trade is also expected to outpace APEC trade with non-member economies in the world.

Trade facilitation together with trade and investment liberalization and economic and technical cooperation constitute three crucial pillars supporting APEC in its endeavor to achieve its set goal. Over the past decade or so, cooperation in the area of facilitation have made substantive contribution to the growth of the regional economy in general and trade in particular.

The Sub-Committee on Customs Procedures (SCCP) is one of the APEC sub-fora working for the advancement of Trade Facilitation. Since its creation in 1994, the scope of work of SCCP has been oriented entirely to reduce the impediments and create a better environment for increasing trading opportunities and to facilitating trade among member economies.

The program of the SCCP to simplify and harmonize customs procedures have provided transparency, predictability and fairness for importers and exporters. And the plans to simplify and computerize the customs processes have resulted in faster and unequivocal clearance of goods. If we add the work that SCCP is doing to improve the efficiency, coordination and integrity, the logical outcome would be the reduction of costs of doing business in the APEC region.

The SCCP is also promoting risk management techniques to APEC Customs administrations to enable them to better target enforcement efforts and facilitate the movement of low-risk shipments and paperless trading in the region. At the same time, the SCCP prides itself as one of the APEC fora that has a comprehensive framework for technical assistance programs to assist member economies in their implementation of Collective Action Plan items. These items cover important areas such as Risk Management, WTO Trade Related Intellectual Property Agreement, Clear Appeals Provisions, Temporary Importation and Express Consignment Clearance. Most of these will be completed by this year.

Despite all progress made, the changing environment brought about by globalisation and New Economy is posing new challenges to the cooperation in Customs. A more efficient and high quality customs service is required to meet the growing needs of business community in the APEC member economies. Reinforcing this point, the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), made up of business leaders in the APEC region in its most recent report to APEC Leaders, highlighted the importance bringing a whole range of government services on-line, including customs, both for efficiency and as a catalyst for e-commerce.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The APEC strategy on Trade Facilitation took a decisive step forward last year when the APEC Senior Officials decided to create an Ad-Hoc Task Force to develop a set of Trade Facilitation Principles.

On this line, the contributions of SCCP to the Task Force have been substantial, and have led the work of the group in the last two years to a successful conclusion with the adoption of "APEC Principles on Trade Facilitation". The principles contained in the document range from: Transparency; Communications and Consultations; Non Discrimination, Consistency, Predictability; Harmonization, Standardization and Recognition to Modernization and the use of new Technology. They provide a stronger focus for APEC's future work on trade facilitation and add value to trade facilitation initiatives in all APEC fora.

The Ministers Responsible for Trade last June here in Shanghai, endorsed this important document. They reiterated that trade facilitation must remain a priority issue on the APEC agenda and stressed the significance of trade facilitation for reducing costs of doing business in the region. They instructed APEC member economies to continue to develop capacity building program to assist members to implement the principles on a voluntary basis. They also recommended including the principles in APEC?s outreach work to the business community.

This set of principles will support the policy makers and executives of member economies with an organized and structured approach in formulating and implementing trade measures. The Principles are also one of the most business-oriented deliverables APEC has ever produced. The relevance of the Principles to the current and future work of SCCP and its interaction with the business community is self evident. We hope that with proper implementation on the voluntary basis by member economies, the results will soon start to benefit the business communities in the region.

Ladies and gentlemen,

China as the host economy of APEC 2001, together with other member economies has chosen "Meeting New Challenges in the New Century: Achieving Common Prosperity through Participation and Cooperation" as the main theme of the year, under which there are three sub-themes:

  • Sharing the benefits of globalization and the new economy
  • Advancing trade and investment; and
  • Promoting sustainable economic growth.

The work of SCCP fits very well into the priorities established in the second sub-theme. Here APEC seeks to revive the momentum of progress in its core mission of trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, by doing so to reaffirm our commitment to the attainment of Bogor Goal. In this regard the SCCP can make its valuable contribution.

While pursuing its set agenda, the SCCP should give more attention to the following issues.

Firstly. To use new technology and other measures to address procedural and administrative impediments is always a challenge to customs. The SCCP should intensify its cooperation in the modernization of customs service of member economies by maximizing the use of information technology, such as computerization, electronic data interchanges and internet technology in order to improving trade-related administrative service and further lowering transaction costs for business, including SMEs.

Secondly. In view of the different level of development among APEC member economies, the SCCP also should devote more attention and resource to the human capacity building with view to assist the member economies, especially the developing economies, to build up their capacity in customs service and catch up with others in this very important area. By doing so, a better condition will be created for APEC member economies to expand their trade with each other.

Last but not the least, the better communication with the business community is of special relevance for the work of the SCCP. APEC would fail in its cause without the support of the business communities whose interest it is meant to serve. Understanding this, APEC, including the APEC Secretariat have already started to carry out outreach activities with a view to make people of member economies, including the business community, better understand APEC's activities and achievements, and the benefits that APEC brings to them. Therefore, the SCCP should continue and, if possible, expand its good practice of engaging business and private sectors, and could also establish links with ABAC, the SME Working Group, and the Ad Hoc Task Force on Trade Facilitation.

In this regard, I think that today's Customs Business Dialogue can play very useful role. A dialogue of this kind will help reduce the information gap, promote better understanding and foster a more productive relationship among the various players in the sector of customs, especially the interaction between the Government and the business community, at the same time to promote APEC's objectives, increase the business participation, and to win more support for APEC in the future.

In conclusion, I wish you a very successful and productive meeting.

Thank you.