US offers telecoms network to open Asia trade
By AMY CHEW in Jakarta
THE United States offered yesterday to establish an Asia-wide multimedia telecommunications network among several proposals to encourage open trade in the region and to help Asia overcome its crushing infrastructure problems.
The initiatives were unveiled by Secretary of State Warren Christopher during a closed-door meeting of foreign ministers at which he reaffirmed the US administration's pledge to ratify the GATT trade agreement by year's end.
'For the United States, free and open trade is more than an economic imperative,' he said.
'President Clinton has made the pursuit of global economic growth and trade expansion a centrepiece of American foreign policy.' Mr Christopher stressed the need to take APEC beyond the general vision agreed by the group's leaders last year in Seattle and said the concrete steps he was proposing would advance that goal.
He proposed creating a permanent Asia Pacific business forum to provide advice on business priorities as well as help to gauge the effectiveness of APEC's efforts to expand trade and investment.
'It could review APEC's work throughout the year, strengthen private-sector participation in the working groups and meet annually to provide ministers with specific advice.
'It could also expand business networks in the region,' he said.
He also proposed a US-hosted meeting of APEC transport ministers to address the region's massive infrastructure demands, saying such a ministerial meeting could recommend how to use existing facilities more efficiently and accelerate further development.
'We can see the strains in the transportation sector, where tremendous growth in traffic has outpaced existing capacity.
'Transportation networks are the arteries of trade. We need to make sure they flow smoothly,' he said.
Mr Christopher said an APEC Study Centre Consortium created by 12 American universities and American businessmen had offered to set up an APEC-wide multimedia telecommunications network linked by telephones, computers, modems and videos and thus 'shrink further the distance that separates our people'.
'Ultimately, integration requires opening borders, not just to goods and capital but to ideas,' Mr Christopher said. 'This network can energise a new era of intellectual integration.' Mr Christopher said adoption of the proposals would ease transport bottlenecks, broaden educational opportunities and create a climate in which 'business people are comfortable in Kansas City and Kuala Lumpur'.
On the issue of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) - the world's main trade liberalisation accord - Mr Christopher said the US recognised its responsibility to ratify the Uruguay Round by the end of this year.
Mr Christopher reassured the APEC ministers that he was sure the US Congress would ratify the GATT accord despite the opposition Republican seizure of the legislature in this week's US elections.
'President Clinton is determined to achieve this result. I am confident that when the debate is over and the votes are cast, the US Congress will once again choose trade, growth and jobs.' He said APEC members had stepped forward to ensure the successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round last year.
'Once again, we are facing a deadline to act. Once again APEC must lead.
'As great trading powers, we share great responsibilities. We have a golden opportunity to help construct the architecture of a more prosperous, more integrated world,' he said.
He said APEC has become an important vehicle for opening markets and expanding economic co-operation in the Asia Pacific.
By avoiding becoming a bureaucracy, APEC could help get bureaucracy out of business and could promote the free flow of goods, services, capital and ideas across the Pacific.
He urged APEC members to give careful consideration to the recommendations of the Pacific Business Forum (PBF) on a range of issues, including open trade, infrastructure development, support for small and medium-sized businesses and others.