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Business Challenges APEC to Speed Up

In a frank and challenging report, business leaders from around the APEC region say individual member economies are not moving fast enough to achieve their deadlines for free and open trade and investment.

The ABAC (APEC Business Advisory Council) report to the APEC chair, New Zealand’s Prime Minister the Rt Hon Jenny Shipley, was made public this afternoon (3pm New Zealand time). The report sets down the directions the Asia-Pacific business community believes APEC must follow, and includes a series of specific recommendations.

ABAC chair, New Zealand’s Philip Burdon (a former New Zealand Trade Minister and Chair of Asia 2000) says APEC has achieved a great deal in the past ten years.

“APEC has become a major force for economic reform and growth, having put in place far-reaching programmes for trade liberalisation, economic and technical cooperation between members, and the removal of red tape and unnecessary costs to business,” Mr Burdon says.

“But like all processes which move by consensus and which are subject to the pressures of domestic politics, APEC has at times lost sight of its own goals.”

Today’s report challenges APEC leaders to work more vigorously to achieve their agreed free trade and investment goals by 2010 for developed economies and 2020 for developing economies. It also calls on APEC leaders to work together in the WTO to achieve comprehensive multilateral trade liberalisation.

“Trade and investment liberalisation is vital to improve the competitiveness of our businesses, to encourage economic growth, and to increase the welfare of our communities,” the report says, emphasising that the dates of 2010 and 2020 are coming up fast, particularly for developed member countries.

It says individual action plans by member economies are “not ambitious enough, in content or timeframe, to meet the goals of free trade and investment by 2010/2020”.

Despite the window of opportunity opened by the urgent need for foreign direct investment in the current economic environment, not enough progress has been made on liberalisation of investment regimes. The report also says that APEC members need to reduce tariffs further, including in the agriculture and automobile sectors, but emphasises that non-tariff measures – such as stream lining customs procedures – are an equally significant impediment to trade which needs to be addressed.

The report offers a number of proposals for economic and financial restructuring in order to equip economies for more open markets, and to assist with recovery and renewed growth in the wake of the regional crisis.

It also calls for a number of measures in specific sectors, including action on liberalising international air services, and the establishment of an APEC Food System to strengthen and reform the food sector around the region. Proposals on first steps include the creation of an APEC export subsidy-free zone for food products.

ABAC members from around the region will be meeting with APEC leaders in Auckland, New Zealand, next month.

"We look forward to an open and forthright exchange of views, and renewed commitment and political will from leaders to achieve the goal of free and open trade and investment, as the most effective way of increasing prosperity in our region,” Mr Burdon says.

ENDS

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