Uruguay Round success ‘will not hinder Apec’s trade efforts’

Global trade deal —————–
APEC’s momentum towards greater trade and investment liberalisation efforts would not be hindered by a successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round, the Apec secretariat’s executive director, Mr William Bodde, said yesterday.

Mr Bodde said that there had been speculation that the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum would turn into a “multilateral negotiating instrument” with the collapse of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talks.

But this was unlikely to happen with the talks progressing towards a successful conclusion.

Apec could work on those areas in the current round of trade talks which failed to reach an agreement.

There could also be an attempt to make the group a “Uruguay plus” that would set a pattern aimed at further liberalising global trade, he said.

“If we can work it out in Apec, then we can turn and make it global,” he said.

Apec comprises Australia, Brunei, Canada, China, Hongkong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.

Mr Bodde was speaking to more than 20 journalists at a press conference to wrap up his year at the helm of the secretariat.

He said Apec ministers had called for a successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round by issuing a strong ministerial statement at the recent ministerial meeting in Seattle.

They had also, for the first time, offered a package of tariff concessions to demonstrate their commitment to ending the stalled trade talks.

The successful Nafta vote, the Apec ministerial meeting and leaders conference had a cumulative effect on wrapping up the Uruguay Round, he said.

“The message was not lost on our European friends. The message got across.”

Turning to the trade and investment framework agreement at Seattle, he said it was the first step towards making Apec more of a policy-making institution. While he noted that an Asia-Pacific free-trade area was a future possibility, it was not something “we can leap into” because of the diversity of member economies.

He pointed out the “spectrum of enthusiasm” about Apec. At one end, there was the US, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada and sometimes Japan and China.

On the other end of the scale, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand wanted to go at a slower pace. Malaysia, he said, was the most conservative member.

Said Mr Bodde: “We have a creative tension. It will never move as fast as the more enthusiastic member economies would have it move. But it would probably move faster than those who want to go slow.”

“But Apec will continue and develop as an institution. The days of it being a discussion forum are over.”

Mr Bodde, a 62-year-old former US ambassador to the Marshall Islands, was appointed executive director of the Apec secretariat in January this year.

He will be replaced by deputy executive director Professor Hendra Esmara of Indonesia when Jakarta takes over as chair of the 17-member grouping. The 58-year-old economist has been a consultant with Indonesia’s Consortium on Economic Science since 1987.

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