Senior Business representatives from each of APEC's 21 economies met here in Tokyo to discuss major issues affecting regional trade on 13-16 May, for the second meeting of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) for 2003.
ABAC Chair Dr. Viphandh Roengpithya said that ABAC is concerned that SARS is having a serious negative impact on business activities in the region.
In its Interim Report to Leaders, ABAC stresses the need for transparent and timely information in the fight against SARS, the need to streamline border controls while ensuring responsible and appropriate health safeguards, and the need to strengthen regional capacity to respond to future crises. SARS cannot be used as an excuse for protectionism.
"Other serious issues confront our regional economy and business must play a role in maintaining our regional economic health," Dr. Viphandh said.
ABAC continues to believe strongly that the global economy can overcome constraints to growth only through an expanding business commitment in investment, employment and trade.
To create this return to prosperity, APEC Leaders must vigorously promote free and open trade in the APEC region; enhance security in ways that continue to allow the free flows of goods and people; and confront critical challenges in corporate governance and transparency.
ABAC's discussions in Tokyo were opened by welcoming remarks by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in a reception for ABAC hosted by Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi. Mr. Koizumi expressed his, "great expectations on the activities of ABAC," adding that, "this week's meeting plays a pivotal role in outlining the recommendations [for] the APEC Leaders in October."
In the meeting, ABAC finalized its 2003 Interim Report to APEC Economic Leaders under the theme, "Harmony in Diversity: Achieving Balanced and Equitable Growth." The Interim Report will be presented to the meeting of APEC Trade Ministers in Khon Kaen, Thailand, in June.
The key messages of the report are:
Remain committed to free and open trade, and achieving the Bogor Goals
APEC must re-affirm its commitment to the achievement of the Bogor Goal of free and open trade and investment in the region through increasing the momentum of negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda, concluding the negotiations in WTO on anti-dumping, reduction of customs barriers, elimination of tariff peaks and tariff escalation, development of investment rules and liberalization of trade in services. Agricultural trade policy issues - high tariffs, export subsidies and domestic support - require urgent attention.
Facilitate trade and investment. . . while addressing security concerns
APEC economies must concentrate efforts on facilitating and enhancing secure trade, taking adequate precautions against terrorism, while ensuring that heightened security does not unduly increase business costs. Simultaneously, the global objectives of effectively curtailing terrorist funding through the financial systems while respecting the privacy of bona fide customers must be maintained. Finally, APEC must reaffirm the importance of the protection of intellectual property rights, with an emphasis on protecting optical media.
Capacity building is key to achieving balanced and equitable growth
The benefits of liberalization and facilitation cannot be fully realized without building capacity for sustainable development. ABAC reiterates its call for APEC Economic Leaders to adopt a balanced approach to globalization - one that combines market opening, capacity building and full participation. APEC must move ahead its work on SMEs and micro-enterprises and on infrastructure development, including expanding broadband access in the APEC region, training to support critical infrastructure in the APEC region, and promoting a recycling-based economy.
Address corporate governance
APEC is encouraged to implement ABAC recommendations to ensure that new measures developed for good governance continue to emphasize open market mechanisms and reinforce global trade and capital market liberalization.
Facilitate Business Input to APEC
In keeping achievement of trade and investment liberalization objectives of the Bogor Goals in sight, the progress of APEC member economies' Individual Action Plans must be continuously monitored through effective and rigorous peer reviews. It is ABAC's recommendation that the review program should be continued after its current end date of 2005, and should cover all member economies.
After the close of the Tokyo meeting, ABAC members will participate in a symposium with Japanese government officials on intellectual property rights, free trade agreements and regional trade agreements, and regional financial cooperation.
The APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) is the private sector arm of the APEC Forum and is made up of three senior business representatives from each of APEC's 21 member economies. These representatives are nominated to attend ABAC meetings and events by the Leaders of each economy.
ABAC provides an annual report to APEC Economic Leaders and Ministers that recommends ways to improve business and investment in the APEC region, and ensure the region enjoys the benefits of globalization.
The five bodies set up within ABAC this year to develop the priorities are working groups on financial stability, trade and investment liberalization, trade and business facilitation, capacity building, as well as an Action Plan Monitoring Committee.
The Tokyo meeting also refined the Council's work program for the year 2003, making major progress in this meeting.
The ABAC Chair for 2003, Dr. Viphandh Roengpithya, is the President of the Asian University of Science and Technology in Thailand.