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APEC Pushed To Promote Regional FTAs

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

28 June 2013

During a workshop jointly organized by the Temasek Foundation Center for Trade and Negotiations and the World Trade Organization (WTO), trade experts said that Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member economies' promotion of greater integration could help to consolidate the growing number of free trade agreements (FTAs) in the region.

The workshop was organized in Singapore to help members of parliaments from APEC countries better understand new trade patterns and the path to improving the flow of goods and services.

"The proliferation of FTAs is driven by a need to keep the wheels of growth spinning," said Alan Bollard, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat. "But this is resulting in a complex tangle of commitments that are hard for economies to manage and for businesses to understand and utilize."

"Regional measures such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership are intended to establish clearer preferences and rules of origin," he explained. "These negotiations are built on APEC's work to establish free trade throughout the region and could bring us closer to realizing this goal."

By 2011, the WTO had been notified of more than 300 FTAs in Asia alone, according to the Temasek Foundation Center for Trade and Negotiations, and the APEC economies' multilateral approach is seen to remain the strongest option for addressing such a "noodle bowl" of trade agreements.

"APEC is very much an incubator of ideas that are helping to break down barriers to trade, and can be an integrator of agreements," Bollard concluded. "Our traditional focus on tariff reduction has expanded in recent years to include non-tariff barriers and, increasingly, more complex behind-the-border issues. The harmonization of rules that effect goods and cutting of red tape for cross border business is vital to future trade and investment growth, and could lead economies toward the convergence of agreements."

Keith Rockwell, the WTO's Chief Spokesman, confirmed that "APEC, a great ideas incubator, has already shown that streamlining customs procedures can greatly improve trade flows. At a time of slackening trade growth, ideas which may jumpstart new flows deserve every consideration by WTO members."

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