Trade officials plan Apec overhaul as red tape threatens reform process

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 March, 1998, 12:00am

Trade officials are considering an overhaul of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum because of growing concerns the process of liberalisation could become clogged by bureaucracy, according to a senior Hong Kong trade official.

Malaysia, this year's Apec host, is believed to be leading the initiative to review the structure and effectiveness of the dozens of committees, forums and hundreds of government officials involved in a wide range of detailed projects.

Host nations for the next two years, New Zealand and Brunei, are expected to continue the reform process.

The official said the review was aimed at eliminating overlaps and plugging gaps in the system.

She said there was widespread concern that the system had become cumbersome and there was also a danger of costly duplication.

The review is seen as key to the forum's aim of a free-trade zone for developed countries by 2010, with 2020 set as the target for less-developed countries.

Apec has evolved into two distinct tracks: the annual summit at which the region's leaders push the process and the ongoing process of research, review and negotiation.

The review is expected to target the thousands of government officials and hundreds of ministers involved in detailed projects that aim to facilitate and liberalise trade in the region.

Trade officials have been wrestling with how to maintain momentum on both tracks and to ensure that they are complementary.

Hong Kong's Trade Department plans to continue active participation in regional economic activities, including participation in Apec and the Pacific Economic Co-operation Council.

The department is this year expected to focus its efforts on implementing its Individual Action Plan commitments, finalising agreements on early voluntary liberalisation in sectors endorsed by ministers last November in Vancouver and pushing for results in the area of Economic and Technical Co-operation.

Trade officials said they were impressed by Malaysia's commitment to its role as host.

The country has in the past been a reluctant participant and some-time critic of the reform process.