World / Asia-Pacific

APEC ministers hear China's call for wider FTA

By Li Jiabao in Qingdao (China Daily) Updated: 2014-05-18 07:37

China is calling for the advancement of an Asia-Pacific free trade agreement during the APEC trade ministers' meetings to boost regional economic integration.

"It is urgent for APEC members to demonstrate enough wisdom and courage to step up Asia-Pacific regional economic integration, targeting the establishment of the Asia-Pacific Free Trade Agreement, while continuing to firmly uphold the multilateral trading system," Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said during the opening of the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting on Saturday.

The ministers' meeting is being held in Qingdao, Shandong province, on May 17 and 18. The meeting is an important preparation for the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in November in Beijing.

The Asia-Pacific region is where global value chains and supply chains are most closely knit. However, the differences in development between members have yet to be bridged, and the connectivity is still weak in human resources, infrastructure and organizations, Gao said.

"Maintaining free and open trade and investment is key to economic growth and is also the core task of APEC," he said.

Gao cited the "spaghetti-bowl effect" to highlight the complexity arising from overlapping rules, which demands "urgent efforts to integrate existing resources in current FTAs".

"We should jointly take pragmatic acts to advance the Asia-Pacific Free Trade Agreement," he said.

APEC's 21 members contribute about 57 percent of world GDP and 46 percent of world trade.

Alan Bollard, executive director of the APEC secretariat based in Singapore, told China Daily that trade ministers from APEC's 21 economies will be focused on the pursuit of new growth drivers. A priority will be the development of policies that support more open, integrated markets and the further reduction of tariffs and other barriers to the flow of goods, services, people and capital around the region, he said.

A. V. Ulyukayev, minister of economic development of the Russian Federation, said in an e-mailed note, "We need to be sure that the resulting agreements and their implementation are transparent, WTO-rules based and (do) not lead to trade distortions," he said.

Mustapa Bin Mohamed, Malaysia's minister for international trade and industry, said, "It is crucial for APEC to step up the effort collectively and produce real actions which would translate into real outcomes in terms of bridging the development gap and fostering greater integration and connectivity among economies in the region. This can be achieved through targeted capacity-building initiatives which would yield meaningful results and contribute to APEC's overall objectives."

Sheng Bin, director of China APEC Academy at Nankai University in Tianjin, said that China's proposal for the Asia-Pacific Free Trade Agreement has strategic significance as it will provide the possibility for the convergence of the region's mega FTAs - the United States-led Trans-Pacific Partnership and the RCEP, steered by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"Concrete challenges must be taken into consideration when depicting the long-term prospect," Sheng said.

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