Member states believe they can reduce regional business transaction costs by 5 per cent within the next three years Member states of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum hope slashing red tape will stimulate an additional US$280 billion in regional trade by 2006. Ng Kim Neo, chairwoman of the Apec Committee on Trade and Investment, said they were well on their way to cutting business transaction costs by 5 per cent in the next three years. Measures to remove bureaucracy include reducing customs paperwork and standardising customs rules across the region. 'Removing trade barriers isn't just getting rid of rules,' Ms Ng said, while releasing the committee's annual report to Apec ministers. 'Removing barriers involves making rules open and transparent so businesses can work within the system.' Ms Ng said all Apec economies were working in unison to implement more information technology to cut down on customs paperwork. She said they were also working together to bolster the protection of intellectual property in cross-border regional trade as the fight against counterfeiting remained a costly burden for companies doing business in Asia. 'The key is sharing information,' Ms Ng said. 'All member economies are sharing more information than ever. By doing so we increase transparency in regional trade.' Sharing information had led to the standardisation of customs procedures, she said. A recent example was the implementation of electronic customs certificates of origin as e-certificates which made shipping goods within the region easier and improved delivery schedules, cutting shipment costs. Another successful programme that had helped cut the cost of regional trade was the Apec Business Travel Card, Ms Ng said. So far, 14 states had joined the programme that allowed business executives to travel visa-free within the region. Some governments were moving rapidly in promoting e-customs and developing standards that might be adopted by all Apec economies down the road, she said. In Singapore, for example, the customs office had adopted TradeNet, a one-stop system for processing permit applications for imports and exports. 'This has resulted in a 75 per cent cost saving for the business sector,' she said. The trade and investment committee had also been implementing the Apec strategic plan for World Trade Organisation-related 'capacity building', a WTO term for helping officials from developing nations acquire the technical expertise to better facilitate trade. Ms Ng said she and her committee had arranged a variety of seminars across the region in the past year to help customs officials better understand WTO rules. Ms Ng said following the breakdown of the recent WTO talks in Cancun, Mexico, it was even more important to ensure the 2001 Doha Development Agenda, signed in 2001 by Apec and the European Union, was concluded successfully. The agreement aims to help world trade better cater for the needs of developing countries.