AFTER three days of closed-door negotiations, the senior officials meeting (SOM) of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) conference has failed to reach a consensus on a code of investment. SOM chairman Winber Loeis emerged at the end of the meeting yesterday to say: 'We're still working on reaching a consensus'. The issue will now be referred to the ministerial meeting which starts today. Although there has been no official announcement on the reasons for the failure, it is believed to be due to opposition by the United States. The US is believed to be opposed to the principles of national treatment, performance requirement and repatriation and convertibility. A US spokesman refused to answer any questions, saying: 'I have nothing to say. We're still discussing.' The planned code of investment seeks to create transparency in trade and investment laws and ensure that foreign investors are not discriminated against. It serves to promote intra-regional trade and stress the importance of promoting investment environments which are attractive to foreign investors. The code would not prejudice bilateral and multilateral treaties and other international instruments. The ministerial meeting will discuss a range of issues and a lively debate is expected on a proposal for free trade in the region and the deadline recommended by the Eminent Persons Group for liberalising trade. Those ministers seeking wider co-operation appear headed for some tough bargaining today after Malaysia joined China in renewed criticism of a US push for free trade in the region. 'As far as [trade] liberalisation with a deadline is concerned, we will keep on saying that countries within APEC and outside APEC should continue to liberalise. Whether they want to liberalise at maximum [speed] is up to each country,' said Malaysian Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz on her arrival in Jakarta. Leaders of APEC's 18 member states, including US President Bill Clinton, are to meet in nearby Bogor on Tuesday for their second summit, which will centre on proposals to liberalise trade and investment rules. The Philippines' undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Fernando Macanas, said trade liberalisation was not the only important issue. He said economic and investment co-operation was important, too. The Philippines has proposed the setting up of a technology centre for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to exchange vital information. 'The exchange of vital information will make our SMEs more globally competitive so that we can sell to other more developed economies even though we may be smaller than them,' Mr Macanas said. SMEs, according to Mr Macanas, are crucial to every economy. 'Every single economy relies on SMEs to create jobs and every country wants jobs.' 'SMEs are the producers of most jobs in every country,' he added. Hong Kong's Secretary of Trade and Industry Chau Tak-hay, who arrived yesterday, expressed concern over the US mid-term election results and the implications they might have on China and Hong Kong. He expressed worries over the pending appointment of Jesse Helms as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Senate. 'Senator Helms is anti-communist and conservative and, as such, I am concerned that he is more inclined towards protectionism and therefore may be negative towards China, especially over the country's most-favoured nation status.' Meanwhile, US officials said US Secretary of State Warren Christopher planned to propose three new initiatives when he meets his APEC counterparts today. US officials travelling with Mr Christopher to Indonesia said the first proposal centres on creating a 'permanent business advisory board' that would work with APEC on all major decisions. They said business leaders already consulted APEC on major decisions but they should wield more influence since the activities of the forum had a direct impact on commerce across the Pacific. Mr Christopher will also propose the creation of a network of 'APEC Study Centres' throughout the Pacific Rim to help students develop the skills necessary to meet the demands of a massive developing market. Skills such as advanced engineering and languages would be crucial if the US vision for APEC, an open market stretching from Connecticut to Canberra, ever materialised, the officials said. The US administration wanted APEC to provide scholarships for study at the centres and to organise seminars at which issues relating to development in the Asia-Pacific region would be discussed, they said. The third aspect of the US proposal, which Mr Christopher will outline during an address to his APEC counterparts, centres on upgrading transport infrastructure in the 18 APEC members. The officials said air and sea links must be improved to handle the higher volume of trade which APEC was targeting.