Hong Kong has volunteered to spearhead a drive to strengthen clearing and settlement systems across the Asia-Pacific region - a key initiative arising from the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) finance ministers' meeting. Secretary for the Treasury Kwong Ki-chi yesterday tabled a proposal for the territory to take the lead in promoting the systems in economies developing capital markets and financial infrastructure. Mr Kwong said the territory would share its institutional and regulatory experience and floated the prospect of a regional clearing and settlement facility. He said: 'The priority should be for the individual members to develop their own domestic clearing and settlement systems. 'We will have to have certain standards before there can be linkages.' The two-day Apec forum concluded with a range of proposals to encourage private sector participation in infrastructure development. The territory, which is one of the world's leading foreign exchange and stock markets, is working on a range of other projects to boost its status as a financial centre outside Apec. These include helping to expand and develop China's burgeoning equity markets and the Hong Kong dollar-debt market. In December last year, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority's Central Moneymarkets Unit (CMU) achieved delivery versus payment capability, which virtually eliminates settlement risk. The CMU also provides a computerised book-entry form of central and custodial services for domestic debts while the real time gross settlement system allows the processing of interbank payments. Mr Kwong said: 'The immediate goal of the collaborative initiative should be on strengthening domestic clearing and settlement systems. 'In the medium to longer term, there may be a need to assess the feasibility of development of a regional facility.' He said the Executives' Meeting of East Asia and Pacific Central Banks and Monetary Authorities was exploring the possibility of a centralised service. Mr Kwong said the most important development from the fourth finance ministers' meeting was the emergence of specific issues rather than visions of enhanced co-operation. 'We are moving into a phase where we are examining more specific issues,' he said. 'We are setting ourselves milestones to achieve. It is moving into more concrete and practical issues which is only natural as we continue with these meetings.' Mr Kwong said that while the 18 member economies of the forum were at different stages of development, there were specific issues where they were keen to exchange experiences. For example, there were expected to be continuing discussions on ways in which members had approached the issue of providing old-age pensions and the taxation implications of business being conducted on the Internet, he said.