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Staff writer

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will decide later this month to make a detailed survey and analysis of the social and economic impact trade liberalization is having on its 18 member economies, government officials said Friday.

The APEC trade ministers meeting June 22-23 in Kuching, Malaysia, will identify specific industrial sectors to be covered by the study, the officials said, asking that they not be named. The officials said the study will be conducted by the APEC Study Center, a network of think tanks for APEC members, and that its findings will probably be reported to next year’s annual APEC meetings to be held in New Zealand in September 1999. This year’s meetings are scheduled for November in Kuala Lumpur.

The officials said the forthcoming decision reflects growing concerns about a loss of momentum toward liberalization within APEC amid the persistent currency and financial troubles of East Asia.

Japan is insisting on analyzing the impacts of investment as well as trade liberalization because it believes that the smooth inflow of foreign investments into the crisis-plagued Asian economies will be crucial to help put them back on a sound growth track, the officials said. While some developing Asian economies have raised import tariffs for some products amid the deep domestic economic woes, the United States and other industrialized economies in Europe and elsewhere are facing growing pressure at home to take action to head off a possible sharp rise in imports from Asian economies with sharply depreciated local currencies. The weaker currencies of Asian economies make their products less expensive — and therefore more price-competitive — on the international marketplace.

“Both the merits and demerits of liberalization will be studied intensively and extensively,” one of the government officials said. “But the study will probably conclude that on balance, the effects of trade liberalization are positive and that it is necessary to minimize the negative effects of liberalization… That conclusion would provide each of the governments of the APEC members — both industrialized and developing — logical ammunition to resist protectionist pressure at home,” the official said.

Noboru Hatakeyama, president of the Japan External Trade Organization and a former vice trade minister for external affairs, said “voluntary liberalization efforts by Asian economies have led to a successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round and the Bogor declaration.”

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