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23 February 2010

Apec seeks ways to set up free trade area

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Senior officials from Pacific Rim economies accelerated their efforts Monday to seek ''possible pathways'' to a region-wide free trade zone, but fell short of reaching any consensus except to continue necessary work, reported Japan’s Kyodo news agency.

After a meeting in Hiroshima, where Japan formally took up its chairmanship of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum for 2010, a Japanese official said, ''We already have very sensible analytical studies but also have lots of issues that require further discussions.''

The two-day talks between the 21 Apec members came ahead of a series of ministerial meetings scheduled this year and centered on preparatory dialogues to lay the groundwork for Apec leaders to issue an annual joint statement at their summit in November in Yokohama.

Their priority issues also include making efforts to develop a strategy that would ensure economic growth in Apec as a whole, while the forum, established in 1989, assesses the extent to which its developed members have achieved its Bogor Goals of trade and investment liberalization, set 16 years ago.

Japan proposed to offer assistance to other member economies with its energy-efficient technologies as part of the effort to fight climate change.

Apec shares the view that promoting business investments in such areas as environmental protection and energy conservation would lead to sustainable economic growth and the creation of employment within the region, the Japanese official said.

As for the potential free trade zone, the senior Apec officials discussed how to explore ''possible pathways'' to a Free Trade Area in the Asia-Pacific region.

It remains uncertain, however, how fast they can build a consensus for an FTAAP as some officials say Apec is too vast an economic bloc to agree on a single opinion, and that some members, especially China, remain cautious toward the United States establishing a strong foothold in Asia.

Apec, which accounts for half the world's global economic output and 44 percent of its trade value, also involves Russia, Australia and Singapore.

The Bogor Goals, named after the Indonesian city where Apec leaders reached the agreement in 1994 and implemented under the Osaka Action Plan charted in 1995, when Japan last chaired the forum, set liberalization targets for developed members by 2010 and for less-developed members by 2020.

Apec is reviewing how trade and investment have been freed thanks to the initiatives of the World Trade Organization and various bilateral or multilateral accords in the region.

Amid signs of a global economic recovery, Apec will attempt to share the understanding of a strategy for sustainable and ''inclusive'' economic growth in Apec.

In 2009, under the chairmanship of Singapore, Apec leaders agreed that growth after the global recession must be more inclusive, with less-developed Apec members as well as those in socially weak positions not left behind or disadvantaged by protectionism in international trade.

The series of talks which Japan is scheduled to host in 2010 includes a meeting of trade ministers on June 5-6 in Hokkaido, of finance ministers on Nov. 6 in Kyoto, and of trade and foreign ministers on Nov. 10-11 in Yokohama.

Apec leaders will meet in the eastern Japanese port city for their summit on Nov. 13-14.

Apec groups Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.


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