Consumers, workers and businesses in the APEC region are the beneficiaries of APEC's Regional Economic Integration (REI) agenda that has become an integral part of enhancing free trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific.
The standardization of certification for telecommunications equipment, the synchronization of food safety standards, the alignment and recognition of education qualifications and the harmonization of rules of origin criteria in a number of areas such as steel products and consumer electronics, as some of the benefits being delivered from this multi-year effort.
These tangible outcomes not only broaden the range of goods and services that can be obtained by consumers around the region, but reduces the costs of doing business so enhancing prosperity in member economies and creating jobs.
Some of the benefits brought about by deepening regional economic integration have become apparent as shown by research conducted at a regional level.
The Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat, Ambassador Muhamad Noor, highlighted recent data indicating that despite operating under informal structure, ongoing APEC regional economic integration has already delivered substantial gains.
"Research by APEC's Policy Support Unit last year shows that APEC members are three times more likely to export to, and two times more likely to import from, a fellow member than a non-member," Ambassador Noor revealed to delegates of the 2010 Conference on Asia-Pacific Regional Economic Integration and Architecture in Auckland.
"As a consequence, APEC economies enjoy a higher share of intra-regional trade than the EU, and a much higher share than NAFTA and ASEAN-7 economies."
Ambassador Noor said the research indicated that the impact of APEC membership on trade among members is comparable to that of a free trade agreement, even though APEC members are not bound by formal rules or trade treaties.
APEC Leaders have been specific in highlighting the value of deepening regional economic integration particularly with the regional economy moving through a recovery phase following the global financial crisis. Leaders have sought "to develop a new growth paradigm for the changed post-crisis landscape" and to "expanded trade and investment agenda that will strengthen regional economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region."
Led primarily by sub-groups of the APEC Committee on Trade and Investment, the 2010 APEC year has seen a dramatic expansion in activities seeking to fulfill Leaders' directives to deepen regional economic integration.
These efforts elevated to a priority status at the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade meeting that was held this year in Sapporo, Japan.
Trade Ministers received and reviewed updates on work underway in APEC fora in areas such as standards and technical regulations, trade facilitation, rules of origin (ROOs), intellectual property rights (IPR) and environmental goods and services (EGS). Trade Ministers then instructed officials to produce concrete outcomes in priority areas in preparation for the 2010 APEC Leaders and related meetings Yokohama.
An initiative that was prominent in Trade Ministers' discussions was progress being made to explore possible pathways to achieve a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).
Originally proposed by the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), the concept of an FTAAP was initiated by business with a sound understanding of what is required to motivate commerce and enhance prosperity through employment.
ABAC Chair, Gempachiro Aihara, praised results that have already been attained though APEC's broader agenda and encouraged Leaders to make the necessary decisions on possible pathways to achieve a FTAAP.
"The pursuit of the Bogor Goals of free and open trade and investment have created employment and social stability and helped reduce poverty in the region," said Aihara at the conclusion of the final ABAC meeting prior to the 2010 ABAC dialogue with Leaders.
"It has become imperative for APEC to give renewed commitment to achieving deeper regional economic integration in view of economic uncertainty and the resulting protectionist pressures that threaten to reverse these gains."
"In our view, the FTAAP is the most practical means to achieve this."
The way forward in deepening regional economic integration will be determined by APEC Leaders meeting in Yokohama. This is a direction that will draw heavily from collective government and business sector advice and recommendations derived from real-world experience and expectations.