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Sutton Remarks To The AFTA/CER Task Force Dinner


Chairman Cesar Virata, Mayor Warren Cooper, distinguished representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen

I'm delighted to be with you this evening and to welcome you all to New Zealand and to Queenstown - we are honoured to have you here. I hope you will enjoy your stay and that the enchanting surroundings of Queenstown will aid your discussions.

The New Zealand Government regards the work of this Task Force as being of great importance to the Asia Pacific Region and the global trading system.

With the failure of Seattle last year the FTA process has become increasingly important in maintaining the momentum towards multilateral liberalisation and the APEC Bogor Goals. The work of this Task Force is a key part of that process.

We in New Zealand do not see regional FTAs as inhibiting progress in the WTO: they are not roadblocks, but building blocks which spread the benefits of trade liberalisation and in so doing promote the concept of freer trade and investment.

As I said to the press this week, it is important to continue to pay attention to the architecture of the world trading system but we can


do so by building the house of freer and fairer trade one room at a time.

You may know that the New Zealand Government recently announced a freeze on unilateral tariff reductions. The feeling has been that we were moving ahead of our major trading partners and that it was time to give New Zealand industry some time to adjust to the globalisation process.

I want to reassure you that the New Zealand Government remains committed to trade liberalisation. We will achieve the APEC Bogor Goals and we will move in concert with our trading partners to implement any liberalisation measures agreed through the negotiation of bilateral or regional FTAs or through the WTO process.

A key component of our strategy is the negotiation of a closer economic partnership with Singapore of which you are all doubtless aware.

New Zealand and Singapore recently met in Wellington for a further round of negotiations and will be meeting again in Singapore shortly. Good progress is being made. We are currently preparing a programme for a domestic consultation and would like to share with you during the course of this meeting a discussion paper we have drafted for this purpose.

I was also pleased to receive Sir William's report of the good progress that was made at the inception meeting of this Task Force in Jakarta - and I know Task Force members and the ASEAN Secretariat have been working hard since then to ensure maximum progress can be made here in Queenstown.

It is important to ensure that any AFTA-CER agreement achieves the maximum possible benefit for all participants.


And so I would encourage you to continue to work on the basis of any agreement being comprehensive, covering all goods, services and investment.

To ensure that we build our regional arrangements in a way which contributes to the broader multilateral system it is also essential that the agreement should be consistent with WTO rules.

I myself have no doubt that everyone would benefit from a closer economic partnership between the two regions through a higher level of economic activity, exports and real consumption.

Merging AFTA and CER would also foster closer business links, cultural exchange and business networks, leading to greater confidence and therefore higher levels of investment.

But, there would of necessity be an adjustment phase. An important objective of this meeting will be for everyone to air their concerns over possible costs or complications of an AFTA/CER linkage, so that solutions can be found to these problems and incorporated into your final report to Governments.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These are weighty matters.

I therefore commend you for your willingness to take on the important role of membership of the Task Force. At stake is the future prosperity and well-being of our citizens and our economies' ability to participate effectively in global trading system.

I wish you the best for your meeting meeting and look forward to hearing from Sir William the results of your work.


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