WASHINGTON — Laying the groundwork for a secure, stable and prosperous Asia-Pacific region is not the kind of work that generates dramatic headlines. But that is the work the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum does day in and day out, with significant benefits for business, workers, investors and consumers around the region.
As APEC heads into another round of high-level meetings this month in Brunei, it can point proudly to its record over the past 11 years. Over the past decade, members of APEC on average have grown faster, traded more, enjoyed larger inflows of foreign investment, created more jobs, and generated higher standards of living for their people than any other region of the world. APEC economies are significantly more open today than a decade ago. All but four have cut average tariffs to below 10 percent and virtually all are removing barriers to investment.
Top-level political commitment is key to that success. In 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton hosted on Blake Island the first APEC economic leaders’ meeting, an annual event that has become the single most important institution in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1994, APEC leaders developed a vision for the region — the Bogor Declaration of free trade and investment. To fulfill that vision officials, academics, and representatives of business, labor and NGOs, meet in hundreds of sessions throughout the year to work on the nitty-gritty details of creating strong, open markets.
For example, APEC is fostering safe and efficient capital markets through its support for training programs for regulators and programs to promote use of standard accounting rules. It is training hundreds of customs officials and working out ways to move to “paperless trading.” APEC is working to make it easier to conform to standards in areas ranging from autos to telecom equipment. It is working to create a regulatory environment and financial markets that can build needed infrastructure for the region. APEC is protecting the environment through programs on “clean manufacturing,” clean energy and preservation of coral reefs. APEC is helping small business compete, enhancing worker safety and eliminating abusive forms of child labor.
While we celebrate success, we must also avoid complacency. The work of building strong, open markets from the bottom up is difficult and requires continuous and dedicated effort. Reforms, often politically painful, are still needed to continue the process of recovery from the financial crisis of 1997.
Just as important, APEC economies must discover how they can unlock the potential for “new economy” growth spawned by the dramatic advances in information technology with the right mix of enabling public policies. The United States is urging APEC to focus this year in Brunei on realizing that potential through commitments in three areas:
* Make APEC markets stronger and more competitive. Regional trade cannot prosper without a strong global trading system. APEC is working to build a consensus for an early launch of a new World Trade Organization round. APEC will also continue to press for investment liberalization, procompetitive regulatory reform, and the establishment of the rule of law throughout the APEC region.
* Make APEC more wired. APEC has been a pioneer in promoting e-commerce through its Readiness Program, which has brought officials and businesses together around the region to identify how to remove obstacles to a robust e-marketplace. APEC is also hard at work to turn the digital divide into a digital opportunity through enhanced IT training and programs to assure that all our citizens have access to the Net.
* Make APEC more connected. APEC aims to facilitate the creation of the web of connections that are critical to the placement and fulfillment of online orders, including making telecommunications, financial, aviation, customs and delivery services more efficient.
APEC is making a difference, building a better environment for business, for workers and for families in the region. It is building strong, robust economies needed to underpin stable, prosperous societies. As Clinton heads for his last APEC leaders meeting, the U.S. remains committed to the goals of building a Pacific community in which all our people will prosper in peace.
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