Early Apec submissions speed up push to reduce trade tariffs
RAY HEATH in Cebu
The prospect of a free trade area around the Pacific Rim, including Hong Kong and China, could have been advanced by the submission of crucial plans to reduce trade tariffs by all 18 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec).
Member country senior officials meeting in Cebu presented proposals for dismantling or reducing trade barriers by 2010 for developed nations, and 2020 for under-developed Apec members.
'We are pleasantly surprised all the economies were able to submit their IAPs [individual action plans],' meeting vice-chairman Antonio Basilio said.
There had been concern only a handful of Apec countries would bring tariff reduction proposals to the meeting, which is being held to finalise action plans to put before a key ministers summit in Subic Bay in November.
With all 18 countries having submitted IPAs, chances have increased of real progress being made at the November meeting, called to draw up the 1996 Manila Action Plan for Apec (Mapa '96).
But the question remains, how acceptable will the proposals for individual countries prove to be? If there are wide gaps between offers, months of wrangling may lie ahead, although officials stress Apec is about voluntary adjustments.
More than 200 officials and delegates are attending the four-day meeting to advance plans for the Subic Bay summit.
They will formally table their individual action plans this morning. Later, informal bilateral talks will take place to start reconciling any differences over other country proposals.
The meeting follows the summit of Apec ministers in Osaka, in November of last year, when leaders declared their intention to take action to introduce economic reforms.
The need for fast action and quality submissions to be put before the Subic Bay meeting was stressed by its chairman and Philippines Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Federico Macaranas.
The business community would judge whether Apec was serious about implementing the Osaka action agenda, he said.
'We only have a short window of opportunity to do this. If we do not make a good impression we will quickly lose their support for Apec's future agenda,' Mr Macaranas said.
'The rest of the world is watching too and is waiting for proof the Apec proposition of open regionalism is a reality and not a myth.' While Apec will include dispute procedures to resolve differences between members, the current threat of a trade war between the US and China over trade sanctions following disagreements on intellectual property rights were not formally raised at the meeting.
'APEC was not invented to be the panacea for the world's problems,' Mr Macaranas said.