• Kyodo

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Japan formally took up the chairmanship of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum for 2010 on Monday as senior officials from the 21 member economies gathered in Hiroshima to discuss free trade and investment in the region.

The two days of talks come ahead of a series of APEC ministerial meetings during the year and are centering on preparatory dialogues to lay the groundwork for APEC leaders to issue an annual joint statement at their summit in November in Yokohama.

The priority issues include making efforts to create a regionwide free-trade zone and develop a strategy for the economic growth of APEC as a whole, while the forum, established in 1989, will assess the extent to which its developed members have achieved the Bogor Goals of trade and investment liberalization set 16 years ago.

On the potential free-trade zone, the senior officials will discuss how to explore possible pathways to an Asia-Pacific free-trade area, building on existing analytical studies.

It is uncertain, however, how fast they can build a consensus because some officials say APEC is too vast an economic bloc to agree on a single opinion, and that some members, especially China, remain cautious toward the United States establishing a strong foothold in Asia.

APEC, which accounts for half the world’s global economic output and 44 percent of its trade value, also involves Russia, Australia and Singapore.

The Bogor Goals, named after the Indonesian city where APEC leaders reached the agreement in 1994 and implemented under the Osaka Action Plan charted in 1995, when Japan last chaired the forum, set liberalization targets for developed members by 2010 and for less-developed members by 2020.

APEC will review how trade and investment have been freed thanks to the initiatives of the World Trade Organization and various bilateral or multilateral accords in the region.

Amid signs of a global economic recovery, APEC will attempt to share the understanding of a strategy for sustainable and “inclusive” economic growth in the bloc.

In 2009, under the chairmanship of Singapore, APEC leaders agreed that growth after the global recession must be more inclusive, with less-developed APEC members as well as those in socially weak positions not left behind or disadvantaged by protectionism in international trade.

The series of talks Japan is scheduled to host in 2010 includes a meeting of trade ministers June 5 to 6 in Hokkaido, of finance ministers Nov. 6 in Kyoto, and of trade and foreign ministers Nov. 10 to 11 in Yokohama.

The leaders will meet in Yokohama for their summit Nov. 13 to 14.

APEC groups Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

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