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APEC 2003 Outcomes

Speech by Ambassador Piamsak Milintachinda, Executive Director, APEC Secretariat Singapore | 19 November 2003
Ambassador Kesavapany,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for the opportunity to communicate and outreach APEC to all of you. Since joining the APEC Secretariat in 2002, I have committed myself to meeting the challenge of communicating the benefits of APEC to its stakeholders. While I am of the firmest of conviction that the aims of the APEC process are entirely noble, APEC's technical jargon often makes the substance of APEC difficult to understand.
Today, I will decipher for you the practical significance of the final documents from the APEC Leaders' and Ministers' meetings in Bangkok. There are three key messages in my presentation. First, APEC remains on track with respect to its trade and investment objectives. Second, APEC has sharpened its focus on economic and technical cooperation. Third, other issues like terrorism and health do matter to safeguarding the APEC vision.
At the outset, let me restate the definition of APEC's vision. In 1993, APEC Leaders established the Blake Island vision of "achieving stability, security and prosperity for our peoples." This vision should therefore be the reference point for which to judge all action taken since then.
From the very beginning, APEC stated its commitment to the multilateral trading system. At the Bangkok meetings, Ministers and Leaders had a wide-ranging and interactive exchange of views on the WTO Ministerial Conference at Cancun, and how to put the Doha Development Round back on track. They reaffirmed their strong commitment to the multilateral trading system, and agreed to continue the work done at Cancun, using the draft text by Chairman Derbez as the basis for further negotiations. That APEC economies agreed that negotiations should not have to restart from pre-Cancun is significant. They agreed to press for an ambitious and balanced outcome to the Doha Development Round. APEC Economic Leaders instructed their Ministers and negotiators in Geneva to maintain regular informal consultations to find common ground on issues under negotiation. They affirmed that development should be an important aspect of the Round, and noted that differences in the levels of development should not be ignored. APEC Leaders noted the importance of agriculture issues. They have also agreed to work towards the abolition of all forms of agricultural export subsidies and unjustifiable export prohibitions and restrictions. These distort global agricultural trade and undermine free trade.
We feel this contribution from APEC is important because after all, APEC economies make up 47 percent share of world trade. APEC further pledged to redouble its effort on WTO capacity building, focussing its efforts to maximise its contribution to the Doha Development Agenda. APEC's capacity building work has always been based on the premise that more benefits can be shared more widely if the potential beneficiaries can be trained and made more ready to benefit from the opportunities that arise from change. For the word change, please feel free to substitute liberalisation or globalisation. APEC's work on investment, competition policy, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation, points towards a possible area of contribution to the WTO in the future. Certainly, there are areas where APEC cannot agree, but instead I ask you to focus on areas where it can agree, especially areas where its work leads that of the WTO - capacity building, trade facilitation and transparency.
The philosophical commitment of APEC economies to markets operating freely in a community of 2.5 billion people with a combined GDP of 19 trillion US Dollars and nearly half of world trade has not changed from the very beginning. APEC Economic Leaders met in Bogor in 1994 and set the goal of achieving free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific no later than the year 2010 for industrialised economies and no later than the year 2020 for developing economies. These commitments were called the "Bogor Goals" since then. APEC operates by peer pressure and the peer reviews conducted on eight economies' Individual Action Plans so far indicate that APEC is on track to achieving the Bogor Goals. Furthermore, APEC has established several Pathfinder initiatives to enable economies that are more ready to accelerate implementation in areas such as paperless trading, customs reform and corporate governance. In 2005, there will be a mid-term stock take of progress towards the Bogor Goals.
In Bangkok, APEC Economic Leaders noted that continued lack of progress in the DDA might increase the trend towards Regional Trading Arrangements, or RTAs, and Free Trade Agreements, of FTAs. They emphasized that RTAs/FTAs must complement and enhance the multilateral trading system, and not divide the global economy into numerous trading blocs. They recognized that intra-APEC FTAs could contribute to the achievement of the Bogor Goals, provided that they are WTO-consistent. In 2003, APEC economies have been sharing information on their RTAs and FTAs. There are instructions to intensify discussions in this area in 2004. I therefore reiterate that the philosophical commitment of APEC economies to free markets, to open regionalism and to the multilateral trading system has never changed.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 2003, APEC made much progress on other economic cooperation issues. At the macroeconomic level, Leaders agreed on a Structural Reform Action Plan because economies need to undergo change and reform to remain relevant and vibrant engines of growth for the region. Often the impetus for domestic change has to come from external sources. APEC provides that impetus for change. Leaders updated their 2002 Transparency Standards by identifying specific sectors that the standards should be applied, namely, (1) services, (2) investment, (3) competition law policy and regulatory reform, (4) standards and conformance, (5) intellectual property, (6) customs procedures, (7) market access, and (8) business mobility. Transparency facilitates business by increasing certainty and predictability. By increasing accountability, transparency also reduces the possibility of corruption, a major obstacle to social and economic development at the domestic and international levels. For 2004, Leaders agreed to promote domestic actions to combat corruption.
Looking to build the economic foundations for the future, APEC committed to creating knowledge-based economies. APEC is well on its way to achieving its goal of enabling people of urban, provincial and rural communities in every economy to have individual or community-based access to information and services offered via the Internet by 2010. In Bangkok, Leaders called for accelerated work in this area. Internet access will unlock benefits in the areas of education, lifelong learning, e-commerce and e-government. Leaders also agreed that apart from information and communications technology, science also provides an important foundation for the future. APEC progressed work on life sciences in 2003. APEC's Strategic Plan for Life Sciences Innovation will help address the challenges of risk detection and prevention, treatment and cure of the communicable and lifestyle diseases. In Bangkok, Ministers called for identification of ways to promote collaboration in this field. As a start, they agreed to harmonise quality standards for life sciences services and products. In 2003, APEC also continued discussions on agricultural biotechnology to better understand and resolve the issues related to genetically modified organisms and food. This issue has a direct impact on consumer safety, food to feed growing populations, agricultural trade and the livelihood of the region's farmers.
APEC's philosophy is about shared progress and wealth through empowerment. Capacity building is essential to ensure that APEC economies at different levels of development and readiness are able to partake in the opportunities made available through APEC liberalisation. Capacity building has thus become a common thread that runs through virtually all APEC areas of cooperation. However, APEC is not a development funding organisation. It is a cooperative process that leverages the limited funding and expertise available for the maximum possible benefit. In 2003, APEC was able to set four priority areas for its economic and technical cooperation work in the future. These are: (1) integration into the global economy; (2) promoting the development of knowledge-based economies; (3) addressing the social dimension of globalisation; and (4) counter-terrorism capacity building. The third priority theme of addressing the social dimension of globalisation is about ensuring that with change, people still have access to food, education, health and jobs. With these priority themes, with the new partnership with international financial institutions established this year and strengthening the partnership with the business sector in 2004, APEC should be able to make its economic and technical cooperation efforts work even harder for the region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There are those that question the relevance to APEC of APEC initiatives on SARS and terrorism. My view is that if it has an effect on "achieving stability, security and prosperity for our peoples", then it is relevant to APEC. If it has an effect on the Asia-Pacific community that we are building, then it is relevant to APEC. If it has an economic impact, then it is relevant to APEC.
APEC has shown its ability to quickly respond to new challenges. In 2001, Leaders issued a Leaders' Statement on Counter-terrorism. Then in 2002, they adopted a Leaders Statement on Fighting Terrorism and Promoting Growth. In 2003, they agreed on APEC's "complementary mission of ensuring the security of our people". What does this mean for the region and for all of you? Terrorism is a threat to the economic well-being of the region and to people's lives. Terrorism is a threat to APEC's goals. Through APEC, member economies commit to implement action plans to secure trade, prevent the financing of terrorism, protect people from acts of terrorism in the air, on land, at sea and in cyberspace. Naturally, capacity building is an integral part of the Counter-Terrorism Action Plans. APEC is well aware that fighting terrorism and securing trade can lead to rising costs to business and to consumers. However, not all solutions have to give rise to increasing costs. Innovative solutions do make themselves available when business and government tackle challenges together. The first Secure Trade in the APEC Region or STAR Conference in 2003 in Thailand and the second STAR Conference in 2004 in Chile are intended to do just that. From such business-government dialogues emerge innovations such as the Bangkok/Laem Chabang Efficient and Secure Trade Project which allows for secure shipping between this port and the port of Seattle, U.S.A. Secure containers also clear customs faster. Other initiatives APEC is pursuing are the Advance Passenger Information Systems and the Regional Immigration Alert System. These not only deliver enhanced security, but also increase efficiency for legitimate travellers.
In taking its counter-terrorism work forward, it is fully recognised that APEC needs to ensure that it meets its complementary trade facilitation target of reducing business transaction costs by 5 percent by 2006. A 2002 study by the APEC Economic Committee estimated that reducing the costs of international trade transactions by 5 percent by 2006 could add USD 154 billion (in 1997 prices) or 0.98 percent to APEC's GDP each year.
APEC has responded decisively on SARS in 2003. APEC's Emerging Infectious Diseases Strategy, Emerging Infections Network, Action Plan on SARS, Communications Strategy on SARS and new Health Task Force are the legacies that SARS left behind. The establishment of a new Regional Emerging Disease Intervention (REDI) Centre in Singapore to serve as a regional resource for training and research will be another legacy. Together these policies and mechanisms will ensure that economies pool their scientific and communications resources to combat future infectious disease outbreaks, while minimising the impact on economic activity, particularly on tourism and tourism-related industries. In addition to this, the 2003 Leaders' Statement on Health Security also covers measures to secure the region from bio-terrorism.
So, to those that accuse APEC of going off course, my response would be APEC remains on track. People and the normal conduct of economic life are the lifeblood of APEC. I reiterate, in 1993, APEC Leaders established the vision of "achieving stability, security and prosperity for our peoples."
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have attempted to deliver to you the following messages. First, that APEC remains very much on track with respect to its trade and investment objectives. Second, APEC has sharpened its focus on economic and technical cooperation. Third, other issues like terrorism and health do matter to safeguarding the APEC vision. In the course of delivering these three messages, I also hope that I have been able to demonstrate how APEC works for you.
Thank you for your kind attention.