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APEC Free Trade Area Leaves Smaller Nations Skeptical

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum held in Hanoi from November 17 to 19 resulted in renewed discussions on trade. APEC leaders drafted a statement on the WTO’s Doha Development Agenda and the Hanoi Action Plan. The leaders agreed on the need to continue the stalled round of Doha…

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum held in Hanoi from November 17 to 19 resulted in renewed discussions on trade. APEC leaders drafted a statement on the WTO’s Doha Development Agenda and the Hanoi Action Plan. [1] The leaders agreed on the need to continue the stalled round of Doha trade negotiations. However, they refuse to empower negotiators to execute this goal until all members are better prepared for liberalization. [2] The longer APEC nations put off negotiating a multilateral agreement, the more difficulties they are likely to face. It will be considerably harder to catch up with developed nations and trade blocs such as the EU. APEC will also be losing potential profits. To prevent unequal economic gains, protection of smaller, vulnerable nations is necessary. However, all will lose if Asian economies continue to interact with one another as inefficiently as they currently do. If these nations are going to remain internationally competitive, they must consolidate economic power.

The slow pace of progress invites criticism. Is APEC really as inefficient as its detractors claim? APEC allows smaller nations to balance against stronger players such China and the US, while still cooperating with them for economic gain. [3] With the kinds of obstacles that the leaders face, some wariness is justified. A free trade area only has potential if developing countries in APEC take necessary precautions. They must be strong enough to withstand fluctuations in international markets before they open their economies to free trade. Capacity-building measures and the flexibility for leaders in determining national trade policies will prevent an agreement from benefiting members unequally.

APEC nations should not delay too long, or they risk lagging behind economically. A free trade agreement between APEC nations would facilitate trade within the bloc and internationally. These countries already control nearly half the world’s trade and 56 percent of global gross domestic product. [4] WTO negotiations had come to a halt because of disagreement on subsidies. [5] In Hanoi, the US and Japan did not complete unfinished discussions on reductions in agricultural subsidies. China and Australia also have yet to consider further tariff cuts on industrial goods. The conference, however, did open debate for the first time since Doha and concessions are likely to follow.

The Hanoi Action Plan outlines details of a multinational agreement. The agreement will streamline the negotiation process and replace 50 bilateral treaties. [6] It proposes that members institute measures which will prepare economies for trade liberalization. The Plan also identifies corruption as an obstacle to growth. [7] The leaders also focused on energy security. Development of renewable technologies and cleaner use of fossil fuels are among the issues of concern. [8]

The difficulties in WTO negotiations have made leaders wary. [9] The chances for success may be higher for a regional trade area. The EU for instance has proved more successful, but APEC will face different challenges. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thinks that the EU trade bloc was easier to create because of greater political similarities between nations. [10] APEC includes some of the world’s richest and poorest countries. The disparity in economic backgrounds also makes it difficult to find common ground. [11]

The conference agenda included discussions of pandemic diseases such as AIDS and disaster response plans. Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet issued a statement on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Some are critical of the meeting’s success since no declaration was issued. [12] APEC does provide a forum for world leaders to discuss pressing concerns, but international security is not the organization’s primary focus. Those types of discussions would diffuse its main purpose which is to discuss economic development and trade.

APEC should begin negotiations much sooner than it plans. It can simultaneously help its smaller members strengthen their economies. The bloc could integrate weaker economies, seeking to strengthen vulnerable industries, at a slower pace. Other necessary measures include improving infrastructure and reforming laws. Meanwhile, nations can continue to sign bilateral or even smaller multilateral agreements. They can also provide aid to some of the lesser developing nations. APEC should also begin to develop enforcement procedures. As a trade bloc, the organization could later leverage its influence to more effectively address security and health issues.

Source: www.asiaecon.org |



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