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China wins praise for bold reforms at APEC meeting
Updated: 2004-06-05 10:00

China won praises for its economic reforms at an Asia-Pacific ministerial meeting held in Pucon, Chile while the United States was spared criticism for stiff counter-terrorism laws perceived as unfriendly to trade.

The assessment was made by independent experts commissioned by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to study plans framed by the two countries to achieve free trade and investment.

"China's economic reform accomplishments are remarkable and historic, especially as it also must balance the many other political, economic and social challenges it faces," according to a report on the world's most populous nation tabled at the APEC trade ministers meeting which opened at this Chilean resort town Friday.

Hank Lim, an expert from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs who prepared the report, said China had "performed well" on its principal commitments to the World Trade Organization (WTO), especially in tariff reductions, the phase-out of non-tariff measures and liberalization of the service sector.

China and other developing APEC member economies are committed to completely lifting their trade and investment barriers by 2020. The developed economies in the forum -- the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand -- have to achieve the target 10 years earlier.

China has slashed its average tariff rate on all goods from 35.6 percent, when APEC economies made their commitment in 1994, to 10.4 percent, Lim said.

"At least from our viewpoint, we praise China for their effort. Although it is not perfect, we have to recognize the fact that this is a huge economy undergoing economic reforms within a short period of time," Ricardo A. Lagos, a senior APEC official from Chile, told AFP.

Lim pointed out however that it would take time for China to fully implement the administrative, judicial and institutional changes.

He noted "strong commitment" by Chinese President Hu Jintao's administration to pursue reforms in the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, saying "strong enforcement is critical for market forces to quickly take hold."

The APEC forum also noted China's "high priority" for the establishment of independent courts and the appointment of high caliber judges and prosecutors "to make the application and execution of laws fair, transparent and effective."

A separate assessment of US plans to lift trade and investment barriers showed that measures Washington introduced to fight terrorism since September 11, 2001 "have not hindered trade."

Among reasons attributed to the conclusion was "transparency and accountability" of US economic development despite new laws aimed at thwarting terrorist attacks.

"While there was the possibility that measures relating to the ongoing terrorist threat could affect US progress towards the Bogor goals, this has not been the case," said Armando Caceres, principal researcher at Peru's Group of Analysis for Development.

APEC launched its objective to free up trade and investment in the region by 2020 at the Indonesian city of Bogor in 1994.

Among US laws introduced since the 2001 terror attacks was the Bio-terrorism Act requiring registration of most food manufacturing and handling activities, and prior notice to the Food and Drug Administration of all food shipments coming to the country.

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