Abolish nuisance tariffs, HK urges
Hong Kong will press for an Apec proposal to scrap tariffs on information technology products to be widened to include the abolition of all 'nuisance' tariffs among member economies.
Director-General of Trade Alan Lai Nin said a package of measures would ensure that all members, rather than only high-technology exporters, benefit from the measures.
The proposal to remove tariffs by 2000 received the broad support of members of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum at talks between senior officials at the weekend.
It was first tabled by the United States and is now virtually assured of the backing of Apec's 18 member economies at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Singapore in December.
Mr Lai said: 'The idea generally received good support. But there were varying degrees of enthusiasm.' He said there had to be a clearer definition of which products were to included and more discussion on implementing a tariff phase-out.
'The US proposals are not clear on which products should be included. Some members think it should be across the board. Others only want high-technology, while others want all technology products.
'Hong Kong supports the principle but wants the coverage of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) to be broadened. We are also seeking the removal of all nuisance tariffs.' He defined 'nuisance' tariffs as charges of about 2 or 3 per cent which had no clear objective but which imposed unnecessary costs on traders.
'This would mean that most countries would be able to benefit irrespective of whether they are involved in the ITA.' Unlike the WTO, Apec is not a rule-based negotiating or bargaining body. It is a voluntary association of economies and not of states or nations.
There are no formal treaties in Apec and all agreements or targets are set in joint declarations rather than legal texts.
The fourth meeting of senior officials, which was held in Manila, was the last major opportunity for member economies to finalise their individual action plans (IAP) before next month's fourth economic leaders' meeting.
Fewer than half submitted their plans and the rest have been given until the end of the month to make submissions.
Mr Lai said: 'Hong Kong submitted its IAP. I would not think the other economies would have any difficulty in complying with the deadline.' He said it was too early to say whether member states' commitment to trade liberalisation had gone beyond their Uruguay Round undertakings. 'But as far as Hong Kong is concerned, we go beyond.' Eleven countries are believed to be lobbying Apec to become members.
Mr Lai said: 'The membership issue is unresolved. Discussions will continue in November.
'We generally agreed that it should not be a closed shop and that bringing in new members should be a question of timing and establishing the relevant criteria.'