APEC free trade deal pushed

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LIMA, Peru: Ministers from the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member-economies are pushing for the implementation of free and open trade in the Asia Pacific.

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In a joint statement after the two-day APEC Ministerial Meeting here on Friday, the ministers reiterated their commitment to promote equality and inclusive growth, and human development in an open and integrated Asia-Pacific.

“Faced with rising skepticism over trade and stagnated trade growth, we reiterate our commitment to build an open economy in the Asia-Pacific featuring innovative development, interconnected growth and shared interests. We reaffirm that open trade policies are essential for sustained recovery and boosting growth for [the]coming years. We also believe that the benefits of trade and open markets need to be communicated to the wider public more effectively, emphasizing how trade promotes innovation, employment and higher living standards, and creates opportunities for our citizens that can support inclusive growth,” the APEC ministers said.

“Against this backdrop, we commend progress made in 2016 in the APEC region in pursuing trade and investment liberalization, business facilitation and economic and technical cooperation to boost human development, inclusive growth and prosperity in the region,” they added.

Bogor Goals
The establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) is one of the main topics on the agenda of the 2016 APEC Summit.

“We reaffirm our commitment to advance the process in a comprehensive and systematic manner towards the eventual realization of the FTAAP as a major instrument to further APEC’s regional economic integration agenda towards and beyond the Bogor Goals,” the APEC ministers said.

The Bogor Goals refer to a set of initiatives for realizing free and open trade in the Asia-Pacific agreed upon by member-economies in 1994 in Bogor, Indonesia.

The APEC ministers recommended the completion of the “2016 Second-Term Review of APEC’s Progress Towards the Bogor Goals” and agree to submit this report to the APEC leaders.

“We reaffirm our collective and individual commitment to further promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation and to reduce or eliminate restrictions and enhance cooperation to address ‘behind-the-border’ barriers through undertakings in line with APEC’s work on structural reform,” they said.

The APEC Economic Leaders’ meeting here in Peru on Saturday may well approve the strategic study, which is part of the Beijing Roadmap to the FTAAP. The document contains a mixture of initiatives destined to strengthen trade, reduce bureaucratic hurdles, permit small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to enter value chains, and improve connectivity.

“We acknowledge the high-quality work that has gone into the Collective Strategic Study and its Executive Summary along with Recommendations concluded by the Task Force, which is one of the most important deliverables of APEC 2016,” the APEC ministers said.

Alternative to TPP
They also welcomed the organization’s progress in implementing the Regional Economic Integration Capacity Building Needs Initiative, which was seen as a “solid stepping stone” for the realization of the FTAAP.

“We look forward to the Dialogue and Seminar regarding FTAAP next year,” the APEC ministers said.

The formation of a free trade zone that would include all APEC members is viewed as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, which was framed by outgoing United States President Barack Obama in an effort to guarantee US economic leadership in the region ahead of Beijing.

Obama had been expected to promote the TPP, which would have included 12 members of APEC but not China and Russia. That trade pact is now considered politically dead because of Donald Trump’s election to the White House.

In their joint statement, APEC ministers reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen the multilateral trading system, recognizing the important role of international trade to job creation, sustained economic recovery, development and prosperity.

“We underline our confidence in the value and centrality of the rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open, and inclusive multilateral trading system embodied in the World Trade Organization,” the ministers said, as they vowed to continue implementing the outcomes of the WTO’s successful Bali and Nairobi Ministerial Conferences and advance negotiations on the remaining Doha Development Agenda issues as a matter of priority.

The APEC ministers said that have already instructed their officials “to work with a sense of urgency and solidarity” with all WTO Members for the next WTO Ministerial Conference in 2017 and beyond.

“We endorse the initiative on Progressing the WTO Ministers’ Decision to Eliminate Export Subsidies,” the ministers said, as they vowed to continue supporting the WTO’s ongoing work and that of other international organizations in monitoring protectionism.

“We reaffirm the pledge made by our Leaders against protectionism through a standstill commitment that we recommend be extended until the end of 2020 and to roll back protectionist and trade-distorting measures, which weaken trade and slow down the progress and recovery of the international economy,” they added.

Business dialogue
The ministerial discussions were held ahead of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, which takes place on Saturday and Sunday.

Established in 1989, the regional bloc of Pacific Rim economies are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, United States and Vietnam.

Next to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, APEC is the second most important economic grouping for the Philippines. The Philippines’ trade with APEC member economies amounts to more than $100 billion annually, constituting approximately 80 percent of total Philippine trade.

President Rodrigo Duterte is one of three new heads of state attending the APEC Leaders’ Meeting for the first time. The other two are Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

A general dialogue between the 21 APEC leaders and 63 CEOs from the APEC Business Advisory Council will take place on the summit’s first day, followed by breakout sessions and an informal dialogue with Pacific Alliance nations consisting of APEC members Chile, Mexico and Peru as well as non-member Colombia. The Peruvian chief executive will then host a gala dinner for his 20 guests Saturday evening.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde is scheduled to address APEC leaders on the last day of the summit. She will discuss the global economic situation during an informal dialogue with the heads of state.

The summit will be capped by two closed-door retreats exclusively for the 21 APEC leaders. Topics are: challenges to free trade and investment in the current global context; food security, climate change adaptation, and access to water; and integrating the Asia Pacific toward a real and functional connectivity in the region.

All eyes will be on Duterte as he embarks on his maiden presidential voyage outside Asia and debuts on the world stage in a Latin American setting.

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