The Business Benefits of APEC

Singapore, 29 January 2003
  • Speech by Ambassador Piamsak Milintachinda, Executive Director, APEC Secretariat
Good morning.
It is a privilege to be addressing you today.
APEC has a lot in common with the American Chamber of Commerce here in Singapore.
We both believe in the benefits of engaging the global economy, we both appreciate the value of removing obstacles to trade between the economies of the Asia-Pacific, and we share the goal of strengthening the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region.
As members of the United States business community, I can tell you that APEC appreciates your efforts.
Right from our early meetings, APEC has been given tremendous support by the American political and business leadership.
Across the areas in which APEC operates, the United States has been proactive in initiating meetings, forums and projects that have direct benefit for the APEC region.
This morning I will share with you some of the achievements of APEC over the past year.
I will also outline the goals of the following year and how the APEC process benefits business in our region. I hope you will learn more about what we do at APEC to promote and facilitate trade in our region, particularly in areas such as reducing red-tape and improving transparency for conducting business across borders.
When the concept of APEC was established with the first ministerial meeting in 1989, and then confirmed with the first leaders meeting that was held on Blake Island in Washington State, the global economy was in a period of dramatic change.
A new political and economic landscape was taking shape with a revolution in communications technology, and a dramatic expansion of the global free-trade marketplace.
APEC now has a membership of 21 economic jurisdictions covering an enormous area.
In geographic terms, our economies stretch from the far western border of the Russian Federation to through Asia to the South pacific and up to the United States and Canada.
The 21 economies of APEC are home to more than 2.5 billion people.
But very importantly, the economic landscape of APEC involves a combined GDP of over nineteen trillion US dollars accounting for forty-seven percent of world trade.
At APEC we have a simple objective and that is to play our part in improving the lives of these 2.5 billion people who live in APEC economies.
We do this by promoting the development of business and trade across the borders of APEC economies.
The driving ideal behind many of our APEC activities are what we call our "Bogor Goals."
At the meeting of APEC Economic Leaders in the city of Bogor, Indonesia in 1994, the Leaders set the Bogor Goals. These are: "achieving free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region by 2010 for developed member economies, and the year 2020 for developing economies."
Over the past year, the APEC region has moved closer to our Bogor Goals through the implementation of a number of initiatives and programs.
At the Leaders' meeting in Mexico last October, the leaders affirmed their commitment to creating a more inclusive world economy.
In particular the leaders noted the importance of the individual and joint efforts made by APEC economies on micro-enterprises, access to information, human capacity building, financing and health.
Among the APEC highlights for 2002 was the adoption of the Statement to Implement APEC Transparency Standards.
The adoption of these standards means that for the first time, business and investors will be provided with clear information on essential rules and regulations relating to conducting business in member economies.
Removing the guesswork by documenting and codifying laws and regulations will provide greater certainty to the regional business environment.
In 2002 APEC also developed a trade facilitation action plan. This is designed to reduce transaction costs in the APEC region by five percent over the next five years.
Reducing the cost of bringing goods to market will have direct benefits for businesses and consumers in the region. But very importantly for business, reducing transaction costs by five percent is expected to stimulate an increase in trade of around US$280 billion annually.
APEC has reinforced its commitment to maximizing the benefits of the digital economy, in the past year.
In particular this requires attention to reducing the imbalance between those who have, and those who do not have access to the digital economy.
The Digital Divide Blueprint for Action is an APEC program that is set to triple the number of people in the region with internet access by 2005.
A great deal of the input for this program and policy ongoing development has been provided by the Business community.
APEC is responsive to the needs of the business community and is a rich source of feedback and advice.
The APEC Business Advisory Council has also developed a set of recommendations designed to ensure the advancement of the regional economy. These included seeking the earliest possible harvest from the Doha Round WTO talks, and taking increased measures to enhance security, curtail terrorist financing, and respond effectively to crises.
Other areas in which the APEC Business Advisory Council has been particularly proactive are improving corporate governance and transparency, strengthening the development of common product standards between APEC economies, and fostering polices that facilitate a healthy environment for small and medium enterprises.
As for the specifics, the APEC Business Advisory Council has been proactive with initiatives such as pushing for a concerted action plan for the Doha Development agenda, the adoption of one set of internationally-accepted accounting standards, and the creation of a regulatory framework to ensure the free but secure flow of people, financial services and information across borders.
It is important to emphasize that one of the characteristics which sets APEC apart from other international organizations is its close ties to the business community. Not only does an organization like the APEC Business Advisory Council have direct contact with the APEC Leaders, but the private sector is involved at all levels of APEC's work.
There are business groups participating in ministerial level meetings of Finance, Energy, Transportation, Telecommunications and Small to Medium Enterprises.
Companies also advise APEC working groups on issues such as intellectual property rights, customs, trade promotion, science and technology, marine resources, and business mobility.
In addition, APEC has created many services and products designed to assist the private sector.
These range from mutual recognition arrangements and a blueprint for customs modernization, to a manual of best practices for independent power producers and an APEC tariff database.
APEC has also developed a Directory of Professional Services, an Investment Guidebook, a Business Traveller Handbook, a Government Procurement Homepage, and a Ports database. All of these services and products are available through the APEC Secretariat website.
Another way in which APEC has special relevance to the private sector is through sectoral dialogues. These bring government officials together with private sector representatives.
There are currently two dialogues I think I should mention, there are in the areas of Chemicals and Automobiles.
These groups work on a range of activities to make doing business easier and more efficient in the specific sector.
For example, one of the projects being pursued by the Chemical Dialogue is to harmonize the labelling of hazardous chemicals throughout the APEC region. One industry representative estimated that this move alone could save her company several million dollars.
Both Dialogues continue to explore avenues for improving business activities in their sectors.
This ongoing interaction between business and government is important throughout most areas of APEC work, particularly in the facilitation of a secure trading environment.
The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., the Bali Blast, and a number of other terrorist incidents in the APEC region clearly demonstrate the damage terrorist attacks can inflict on the people and regional economic infrastructure.
APEC has taken specific action to address the financial and economic aspects of the terrorist threat.
To meet the challenges of the twin goals of combating terrorism, while at the same time promoting economic growth, APEC leaders have agreed to a number of initiatives and programs.
This has involved taking action to suppress the funding of terrorist groups with the launch of the APEC Action Plan on Combating the Financing of Terrorism. APEC has also implemented the APEC Cybersecurity Strategy that is designed to prevent criminal and terrorist misuse of communication networks.
One of the important projects that will be the centre of much discussion in the coming months is the Secure Trade in the APEC Region, or STAR, Initiative. The first meeting of the STAR initiative will take place in Bangkok in February.
APEC has stood firm against the threat posed by terrorism to regional economic stability, peace and security. We will continue to play our part in confronting this challenge.
I hope to hear a lot of the STAR Initiative in the coming year. It will be an important part of a very busy calendar we have for the 2003 APEC year hosted by Thailand.
As we look at the calendar for the Thai APEC year, we do so from a base of knowing that what we achieve this year is part of the greater APEC picture. We hope that the goals and priorities of 2003 are in tune with what was first envisaged by the leaders in the early days of the APEC process.
In the statement issued by the leaders during the 1993 meeting on Blake Island, the Leaders declared, and I quote:
"We have an opportunity to build a new economic foundation for the Asia Pacific that harnesses the energy of our diverse economies, strengthens cooperation and promotes prosperity."
Ten years on and the same ideal expressed by the leaders forms part of our ongoing determination to strengthen the prosperity of our region. The power of harnessing "the energy of our diverse economies" and "strengthening cooperation" is a large part of our central theme for the 2003 APEC year. The Theme is:
"A World of Differences: Partnership for the Future"
For us this theme is all about making the most of diversified strength and potentials of all APEC members to restore prosperity and dynamism in the Asia Pacific region.
Regardless of their level of development, resources and financial strength, all APEC economies must forge a sense of equal but strong partnership to foster regional economic growth.
This will strengthen the resolve of APEC as a regional community. It will guide us as we work to achieve our goals of economic and social development through closer cooperation.
As is the tradition, we also have a series of sub-themes for the 2003 year.
The first sub-theme is: "Knowledge-Based Economy for all."
The knowledge-based economy is the foundation for economic growth. Thailand is calling for a strengthened KBE strategy that will maximize the potential benefits of information and communications technology. We expect this strategy to bridge the digital divide and create new opportunities for developing economies to be fully engaged in the knowledge-based economy.
Secondly, "Promoting Human Security" means empowering people to become active and self-reliant in the regional economy through capacity building, and providing opportunities for human development.
As the Asia-Pacific region moves towards our Bogor Goals, social safety nets must be strengthened to ensure economic and social opportunities are provided to all stakeholders.
The third sub-theme refers to: the "Financial Architecture for a World of Differences." This means to give attention to best practices of financial regulations and corporate governance.
If we are to enhance economic stability, reduce vulnerabilities in the regional financial system and promote sustainable growth, the regional financial architecture that recognize different levels of economic development must be operating effectively.
APEC is in a position to play a substantial role in reforming the global financial system. This will be done through the implementation of financial regulations and corporate governance best practices that are applicable to economies at differing levels of development.
The fourth sub-theme: "New Growth Enterprises: SMEs and Micro Businesses," refers to the abundance of untapped entrepreneurial capacity in the Asia-Pacific region.
It is all about reducing red-tape to make trade less complicated for small to medium businesses. It means extending resources for the creation of small businesses, building a foundation for jobs growth and enabling a broader distribution of income.
The final sub-theme for 2003 is the call for APEC economies to: "Act on Development Pledges." This is intended to ensure that we meet the commitments made in global forums.
It is crucial for economies to turn commitments made to the global economy through forums such as the WTO into actions.
What I have just discussed are the themes and goals we have for this year at APEC.
They closely relate to the overall aims and objectives of the APEC process such as our Bogor Goals for the years 2010 and 2020.
The projects and initiatives that we undertake at APEC have direct consequences and results for the people of the Asia-Pacific.
They bring about a more transparent business environment, they cut red tape and reduce costs to business, they increase trade, and as a consequence create jobs.
The APEC 2003 year will be a year in which the regional economy will be confronted by numerous challenges, and this will add to our task.
At the same time we feel that APEC, all of its working groups and fora, member economies and of course the APEC Secretariat, are up to these challenges.
APEC is a forum that I believe has tremendous benefit for you, the members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, who are very active members of the Asia-Pacific business community.
I hope your business benefits as a direct result of the APEC process.
Thank you.