Top APEC officials lay groundwork for regional FTA

by Masami Ito

Senior regional officials concluded their meeting Monday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Yokohama with a decision to pursue a regionwide free-trade zone.

The annual APEC summit, being held in Japan for the first time in 15 years, is a nonbinding framework for economic cooperation comprising 21 Pacific Rim economies including Japan, the United States, China, Taiwan and Russia.

The Concluding Senior Official’s Meeting was a two-day preparatory session to shape the agenda for the APEC foreign and trade ministers’ meetings and, ultimately, the summit to be held later this week.

One of the main topics this year is regional economic integration and whether the 21 Pacific Rim economies can achieve the U.S.-proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which would extend existing frameworks.

“We are generally in agreement that for countries to realize the idea of a regionwide free-trade zone, (the FTAAP) must be legally binding,” a trade ministry official said. “And we are moving in the direction of forming a clear image of FTAAP that will have to be based on such frameworks as ASEAN Plus Three or Plus Six, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.”

Japanese officials spelled out the government’s decision to enter talks with countries involved in the TPP but without committing to joining the formal negotiations. According to the Japanese participants, the government’s decision was welcomed by other participating economies.

Other key topics include an assessment of the 1994 Bogor Goals to achieve free and open trade among industrialized member economies by 2010, formulating a comprehensive APEC growth strategy and discussing the prevention of protectionism.