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APEC aims for specific targets
Updated: 2009-11-07 19:50

It has been criticised as being nothing more than a "talk shop", but the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping is doing its best to shed that image.

When APEC ministers meet in Singapore next week, they will set tangible and down-to-earth targets on lofty issues such as regional integration and economic growth, said Ravi Menon, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry and chairman of the Apec senior officials' meeting.

This means putting a specific figure on, for example, by how much to cut the cost of shipping a container - matters which will result in very real savings to companies.

"These are targets we are setting and we're working at it, so it's not as though next month there will be a drop in the cost of shipping a container," he said, at a press briefing ahead of the gathering. "But this is how we're trying to translate actions."

Similarly, APEC ministers want to try to reduce the number of days it takes to start a business.

"If it took 30 days before, and now 25 days, you've saved five days in starting a business," Menon said. "That's tangible help."

To do this, APEC economies are systemically going through their laws and regulations. They will also appoint a number of "champion economies", ones which have implemented successful reform programmes, to help the other economies improve.

Many firms in the region do business across borders - they may receive their raw materials from one country, manufacture products in another, and ship them off to be sold in a third. These regional supply chains are sometimes inefficient and APEC is looking at ways to improve them, said Menon.

He said that eight "chokepoints" had been identified in APEC meetings earlier this year, although he would not elaborate on what they were.

But he said unblocking these chokepoints would make it easier to move goods and services across borders, especially for small- and medium-sized companies, which are less able to overcome such barriers when compared to larger companies.

Aside from promoting economic integration in these ways, senior officials, finance ministers, and trade and foreign ministers from each of APEC's 21 member economies will discuss issues in two other areas, the first of which is how to support free trade and resist protectionism.

APEC's trade ministers will review how well each economy has done to keep protectionism at bay, as well as discuss how to restart the Doha round of trade negotiations that are aimed at freeing up world trade. Finance ministers will also talk about economic and financial reforms.

The ministers will also discuss how to lay the ground for stronger and lasting growth in the Asia-Pacific region. Here, Apec will set goals to try and help the man in the street, said Menon. It wants to make sure growth is inclusive - that as many people as possible feel the benefits of growth and free trade, not just the rich or lucky ones.

To achieve this, APEC is tackling issues on improving worker skills and providing safety nets for those who need them.

"This recession has been extremely deep, but the implications for the labour market have been much less," said Menon. While people have lost their jobs, many have been able to move on to other jobs.

"We need to do better, we need to improve more of these skills and flexibility in the labour market."

Schemes to help lower income workers who may not feel the positive effects of growth and free trade will also be discussed by APEC ministers and officials.

"We want to be able to give short-term assistance, but in the long term you want the person to be able to pick himself up and participate in the economy..." Menon said.

More than 10,000 delegates and international media are expected to converge for the week-long APEC Leaders' Week starting this Sunday.