APEC: The 2004 Agenda

Auckland, New Zealand, 18 March 2004
  • Speech by Ambassador Mario Artaza, Executive Director, APEC Secretariat
Good morning.
It is wonderful to be joining you here in such a beautiful city that is also a strong hub for regional business activities.
Auckland is also no stranger to the APEC process having successfully hosted an Annual Economic Leaders Meeting in 1999. You will again play host to a major APEC meeting when the APEC Business Advisory Council, or ABAC, meets in Auckland this August.
Well, so far as the overall APEC process goes, 2004 is Chile's time to host the major events of the APEC Year. We have certainly learnt from New Zealand's experience in 1999 and from other economies' experience to ensure the 2004 APEC year delivers true and tangible benefits to the people of our region.
There are a number of programs and initiatives that APEC is implementing in the following year and beyond that have direct benefits for business.
I think these are the issues you are most interested to hear about so in the next ten to fifteen minutes.
I will discuss what APEC is doing in areas such as:
  • Developments from the recent Science Ministers' Meeting and other ministerial events
  • Our programs to expand the use of English as the language of business.
  • Building momentum to get World Trade Organization negotiations back on track
  • The relevance to business of the growing number of regional trade agreements in the APEC region, and,
  • The measures we are implementing to overcome the terrorist threat and ensure secure trade in the region,
I will also explain the themes for the 2004 APEC Year and what these mean for business.
2004 is going to be a busy year for the APEC process with a large number of meetings, events and projects planned around the APEC Region.
As well as the Annual Leaders' Meeting that will be held in Santiago in November, APEC is holding ten ministerial meetings across a wide range of sectors. We will hold around 70 APEC meetings in the coming year and will undertake around 230 projects.
While these Ministerial level meetings are not as high profile as the Leaders' meeting, these meetings of Ministers from APEC economies are some of the most important events of the APEC Calendar.
In many ways these Ministerial meetings are the "bread and butter" of the APEC process as they set the work agenda for Working Groups in their individual sectors.
These meetings focus on specific areas that are important to the global economy and a wide range of business areas. They also carry with them the political strength and credibility that government ministers are able to use in their home economies on the issues being discussed.
We have already concluded the first ministerial meeting of the year, with the successful 4th APEC Ministers' Meeting on Regional Science and Technology Cooperation. Taking place last week in Christchurch, this meeting has drawn attention to issues of the sustainability of development in all APEC economies. A key point of this event was to draw attention to the fact that advances in science and technology should be made accessible for all people in the APEC Region and ensure none are disadvantaged. In their joint communiqué, Ministers have agreed to focus on identifying problems behind the shortfall of skills in the area of science and technology in the APEC region. Ministers have called for important research and analysis to find out why companies are experiencing difficulty in accessing a large enough skill base to meet their demands for skills in the science and technology field. It is widely recognized that this lack of access to educated and qualified staff is hurting business and dampening economic growth.
An important part of this analysis will be identifying whether the skills shortage is due to an actual shortage of people with science and technology skills generally, or whether skills development programs have been successful in improving skill levels that incorporate change. The science and technology field has seen such dramatic expansion and growth in recent years there is a body of thought that skill levels have just not been able to keep pace with the technology demands of industry.
Topics discussed and developed at the Science Ministerial will now be put into action by various APEC Working Groups. Several of these issues relating to education and the science and technology sector will also be further developed at the upcoming 3rd APEC Education Ministers Meeting in Santiago in April.
As well as addressing the shortfall in science and technology skills, APEC Education Ministers will look at other business-sensitive issues such as the use of English in business interaction.
Within APEC, English is our official language for interaction and discussion. This is not to say that English is the most important or widely spoken language in the APEC Region. It is not, there are many more people speaking Chinese and Spanish and many other languages. But APEC recognized that for business and official interaction, English is the most commonly spoken language between economies and is the greatest facilitator of cross-cultural interaction.
While there may be concern raised about a perceived lack of language diversity, reality is that we must communicate freely and openly in order to accomplish our tasks in the multilateral world.
Ways to increase knowledge and understanding of the English language is an issue that will arise often throughout the year. The APEC process, and our hosts Chile, firmly believe that the expanded use of English for business and trade will deliver benefits to many sectors. Areas such as the tourism and finance industries are sectors where cross border interaction is high and there are potential language barriers. For Small and Medium Enterprises the expanded use of the English language opens opportunities to increase their competitiveness.
Another issue that is high on the APEC agenda in 2004 is to get World Trade Organization negotiations back on track. This current round of WTO negotiations, that broke down in Cancun, Mexico last year, means a lot for business in terms of building markets, creating opportunities and expanding business potential.
We believe that APEC could make a concrete contribution to progressing the current WTO round by creating the necessary momentum in Geneva that may assist in reinitiating the negotiations. We would like to ensure that the Doha Development Round concludes successfully. As President Lagos of Chile has recently said, we will use the goodwill that exists in the APEC Region to play our part and work by way of our ambassadors in Geneva, as a group of friends.
It is obvious that APEC, as a community of economies that represents close to 50% of the total world trade, should be interested in seeing a successful conclusion of these negotiations.
We expect that when the Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Trade takes place in Chile in June 2004, we will bring considerable support to the formation of a common position by APEC member economies.
In the past year APEC has also spent a good deal of time looking at the value of regional trade agreements and free trade agreements. For simplicity we will call them all free trade agreements, or FTAs, as this is an issue of interpretation.
There has been strong growth in the number of FTAs between economies and this number will continue to expand.
There is broad debate on whether FTAs are indeed "building blocks" or are "stumbling blocks" for the APEC process. For APEC it has been agreed that so long as these agreements are consistent with the rules of the WTO and also contribute to the APEC process, they are seen as a tool to achieve our goals.
The issue of greatest concern to APEC on the subject of FTAs is that of transparency. APEC Member Economies have expressed a desire to see greater clarity in the particulars of FTAs that are negotiated between economies. This will ensure that all economies and business operators can be aware of the intricacies of new FTAs when they are negotiated.
With this clarity business people are able to make firm and definite plans within the new environment created by the expansion of FTAs. The benefits of FTAs to business are clear. With the creation of expanded market opportunities and access to new pools of skills business can expand its trading area and source cheaper inputs to production.
In the past two and a half years, another area has increasingly become a part of the APEC Agenda and that is the area of counter terrorism.
While not traditionally an economic issue, terrorism inevitably has a major impact on the economies where terrorist actions have taken place.
Counter terrorism is an important issue for APEC as potential terrorist attacks constitute a great risk for the economic health of our region. Terrorist attacks not only destroy lives and property, but seriously undermine business confidence and ruin livelihoods.
APEC does not operate at the law enforcement end of counter terrorism activities. Ours is a role of strengthening governance systems. APEC's role is all about identifying measures to empower each economy to protect their borders from terrorist threats, but permit the legitimate flow of trade. APEC's work aims to prevent the trafficking of goods, people and finances involved in terrorist activities or other crime.
As part of our Counter Terrorism activities, APEC has developed an APEC Counter Terrorism Task Force. As part of its duties the task force has developed a counter terrorism action plan that has been implemented locally in each APEC Member Economy. The plan requires each APEC Member to undertake a series of measures in their economy to increase security against potential terrorist attack. This may include issues such as the use of improved baggage screening facilities or reinforcing cockpit doors.
The economic fallout from the tragic attacks in Madrid last week are being felt by people and businesses in Europe and fall in business and consumer confidence will be felt for some time to come.
While APEC Member Economies are implementing a range of measures to prevent similar attacks from occurring again in our region, governments are concerned not to increase security to a point so that the free movement of legitimate trade, passengers and finances is hindered.
Through forums such as the Secure Trade in the APEC Region, or STAR Conference, that was held recently in Viña del Mar, Chile, APEC brings business together with government to work on joint solutions to security problems. At the STAR Conference on March 5-6, senior executives from industries such as aviation, shipping, finance and travel related sectors met with government officials from APEC's Member Economies. In total there were over three hundred delegates at the STAR Conference. They looked at solutions to protect trade from attack in ways that would not hinder trade flows.
The meeting was successful and now a number of initiatives and suggestions will be presented to APEC Leaders and Ministers.
In fact an encouraging factor that has become apparent as economies and the private sector have implemented reforms and processes to counter terrorism, is that these measures are often more efficient than past practices. Using modern technology and communications facilities, the processing of goods, finances and people across borders has been sped up compared to when older, often paper-based, methods were used.
ThemesAs the host of the 2004 APEC Year, Chile is proud to be providing a venue for so many high level events, and guidance for the APEC process throughout the year.
As is the custom in the APEC process, each year the host economy provides a central theme to guide participants in the APEC process. This year Chile has chosen the central theme of "One Community, Our Future".
This theme recognizes that our 21 Member Economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum are part of one community. Like any community, ours is linked by a number of factors. While we are diverse in terms of cultures and language, we have growing links and unity in terms of our investment and trade interaction, and in our social and sporting links. Our community accounts for around half the world's trade and is home to 2.5 billion people. As our regional economy strengthens and we will continue to expand business links and lower barriers to trade this shared future will become even more evident.
The central theme for 2004 is also supported by a series of sub-themes that serve to direct the activities and outputs of APEC's Working Groups and Forums during 2004. As I briefly touch on these, it will be clear to you how they relate to the areas of APEC work and activity I have just discussed.
  • The first sub-theme is APEC as a catalyst in the multilateral trading system. This is our attempt to create the necessary momentum in Geneva to revive negotiations necessary to conclude the WTO Doha Development Agenda.
  • Secondly, the institutionalization of FTAs and RTAs in APEC. This is our call for APEC to undertake further study and discussion on the role FTAs and RTAs can play in achieving the Bogor Goals.
  • Third, trade facilitation focused on trade and security. This involves the continuation of work on APEC's security agenda, in particular, assisting developing economies to meet the increased burden that enhanced security imposes on them.
  • The fourth sub-theme, the development of micro enterprises involves strengthening the participation of SMEs and micro-enterprises in global trade. Part of this process includes strengthening the use of the English language as a working tool and increasing the number of English speakers in many economies;
  • Finally, the 2004 sub-theme relates to the international financial architecture and calls for continuing work to ensure that the region's economic prosperity is underpinned by efficient and stable financial institutions.
These are our theme and sub-themes for the 2004 APEC Year hosted by Chile.
It is our intention that this APEC year will be very productive and deliver results that are relevant for people around the APEC region. I hope that our efforts will create opportunities for business expansion, create jobs and add to regional growth and development.
I would like to take the opportunity before I conclude to thank all those involved in making the arrangements for this event today: the NZ Asia Institute, the APEC Studies Centre and the APEC Business Coalition. Thank you also to Ambassador Tim Hannah for his efforts as a former Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat who maintains a strong interest in helping us to publicise the work of APEC.
Thank you.