Apec summit idea ‘high on agenda’

Asean Post-Ministerial Conference ———————————
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton’s proposal for a summit of Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) leaders will be high on the economic agenda of the post-ministerial conference.

But the proposal is expected to generate some debate as Malaysia, unlike its other Asean partners, is not in favour of it.

Malaysia does not want Apec to be institutionalised as a forum. It has, on its own, been pushing hard but without much success so far, to create an East Asian Economic Caucas.

The proposed EAEC excludes the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

All the PMC participants, except the European Community, belong to the 15-member Apec, which aims to liberalise trade and investment in the region.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said he would not attend an Apec summit in eattle in November.

According to sources, the Asean countries are reaching a common position on the EAEC, now that Indonesia appears to be more receptive to the idea.

Chinese premier Li Peng also endorsed the idea when he met Dr Mahathir in Beijing last month.

An Asean official said that the EAEC could be linked to Apec or the Asean Economic Ministers Meeting.

Senior officials from the six-member states had met in Jakarta to seek consensus on this issue. If there is no agreement, the EAEC proposal could be set aside for further discussion.

The EC is also keen to begin a dialogue with Apec, el,90m which accounts for half the world’s production and 40 per cent of world exports, and it might press for one, a US official said.

The stalled Uruguay Round of global trade talks will feature prominently on the PMC’s agenda.

Despite a breakthrough at the recent Group of Seven summit in Tokyo, when the major trading powers agreed on broad tariff cuts and a market access package, serious obstacles remain on trade liberalisation.

Asean foreign ministers will impress upon their counterparts from the US, Japan and the EC the importance of renewing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade by the Dec 15 deadline.

The deadlock over the Gatt talks has made it even more urgent to get the Asean Free Trade Area (Afta) off the ground. The Afta scheme aims to cut tariffs in 15 areas to between 0 and 5 per cent in 15 years.

An Asean diplomat said that Asean would encourage its dialogue partners to take advantage of the opportunities presented by Afta.

US Secretary of State Warren Christopher is expected to brief his counterparts on the North American Free Trade Area (Nafta), while EC ministers are likely to talk about progress on the Single European Market.

The ministers are expected to reassure each other that the economic groupings will not turn into protectionist blocs.

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