Ambassador Kim Jong Hoon from Korea readily admits that his economy is no stranger to meeting challenges and facing adversity head-on. As Chair of all APEC Senior Officials Meetings (SOMs) in 2005, Ambassador Kim will have to put this can-do attitude to the test as APEC faces one of its most grueling workloads in the forum's history.
The APEC process is now at the halfway point between when the first meeting was held in Canberra in 1989 and the date set for the achievement of APEC's core free trade and investment goals in 2020.
Speaking in preparation for the Second Senior Officials Meeting for 2005, the SOM Chair said he feels relaxed as he prepares for the months ahead but the gravity of the tasks ahead do not escape him.
"APEC has achieved a lot in building an economic community through its areas such as trade liberalization and facilitation as well as through economic and technical activities," Ambassador Kim said of the past 16 years of APEC's existence.
Ambassador Kim said in 2005 Korea will seek to ensure that progress achieved since 1989 not only continues but that Member Economies take an active step forward to adopt changes that are required to enable a true sense of community to grow.
Working to the theme of 'Towards One Community: Meet the Challenge, Make the Change' Ambassador Kim said achieving the core APEC free trade and investment goals requires a response covering a number of areas beyond straight economic issues.
"This year APEC is faced with a number of challenges including lending our support to advance the current round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations as well as undertaking a review of our own progress as a forum and setting direction for the next fifteen years.
"In addition to this Korea has introduced the agenda item of culture into APEC discussions this year and we are also dealing with other ongoing issues that are important for achieving APEC's goals such as counter terrorism and anti-corruption."
"However there can be no mistaking the importance of progressing the WTO Doha Development Agenda (DDA) in 2005," Ambassador Kim said.
In providing leadership to move the current round of WTO negotiations back on track, Ambassador Kim said that Korea, as APEC Host Economy, intended to play a very active role in advancing the Doha Development Agenda. This includes taking steps that move beyond traditional APEC approaches.
"Korea maintains the firm belief that the WTO is the best vehicle in securing and further promoting global free trade," he said.
"There are great expectations in the region for a successful outcome to the WTO Ministerial Meeting that is planned for Hong Kong in December and this adds greater importance to APEC 2005.
"As this year's APEC Chair, Korea is determined to play a very active role in helping to generate considerable progress on the Doha negotiations.
"In November, at the time of the APEC Ministerial Meeting in Busan, we will consider inviting non-APEC member ministers and organize a mini ministerial meeting, with a specific focus on working to prepare for success in Hong Kong the following month."
Inviting ministers from non-APEC members of the WTO is a break with standard practice in the APEC process but is seen by Korea as a common sense approach to bringing together a wide range of stakeholders committed to advancing the DDA. Before this proposed ministerial meeting takes place, Korea is also proposing that APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade hold a separate DDA session at their annual scheduled meeting in Korea in June.
The APEC process has at its core a set of goals that were set in Bogor, Indonesia, in 1994. These goals set the target of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific to be achieved no later than the year 2010 for industrialized economies and 2020 for developing economies.
Since the Bogor Goals were established the APEC process has broadened its agenda to include a range of issues that while not trade and investment related in form, have a significant impact on the region's potential to meet the Bogor Goals. Already covering a wide range of sectors and activities including transportation, chemical production, gender issues, terrorism and corruption, these sectoral issues are being expanded to include culture in 2005.
While the modalities of the cultural element of the APEC agenda are still to be defined, Ambassador Kim said efforts to increase cultural understanding have a direct link to deepening trade and investment links.
"Increasing cultural understanding between the various people of the region lowers psychological barriers against foreign products and companies," Ambassador Kim said.
"One of the sub-themes of APEC 2005 is to 'build bridges over differences.' Given the diversity of APEC economies and the geographically wide dispersion along the Pacific Rim, I believe that achieving an APEC community will require a long-term commitment to strengthening people-to-people contacts."
"The promotion of cultural exchange will help foster mutual understanding, enhance APEC's visibility, and instill a sense of community within the region. Dismantling the psychological barriers creates a business-friendly environment and shortens the distance between markets and people."
Two issues that have received an increasing level of attention from APEC Leaders and Ministers in recent years are counter terrorism and transparency. Both have the potential to seriously affect trade and economic growth if not effectively dealt with through coordinated action.
Ambassador Kim said the Counter Terrorism Task Force (CTTF) will be continuing into its third year and one of the highlights of 2005 will be the launch of the new APEC Anti-Corruption Task Force.
"The role of the APEC Anti-Corruption Task Force is to coordinate the implementation of the APEC Course of Action on Fighting Corruption and Ensuring Transparency which was endorsed by Leaders last November.
"Given the cross-cutting nature of activities related to combating corruption and ensuring transparency, APEC is well positioned to deal with the anti-corruption issue."
"The Task Force is expected to assist member economies by recommending measures that effectively prevent and fight corruption, particularly in the areas of government procurement and taxation. The Task Force will also develop effective actions to fight both public and private sector corruption."
A change that is taking place in the APEC Counter Terrorism task Force is the appointment of Ambassador Benjamin Defensor from the Philippines as the new Chairperson in 2005. A career military officer, Ambassador Defensor is tasked with enhancing counter-terrorism and human security initiatives in the APEC Region.
"I expect CTTF will focus on taking practical action to implement the Leaders' and Ministers' Commitments, for enhancing cooperation and coordination among member economies," Ambassador Kim said.
"Enhanced capacity building efforts to implement counter-terrorism measures such as controls on cargo and people in transit will be an important factor in this program."
With only eight months remaining before the APEC Leaders' and Ministers' Meetings in Busan, Ambassador Kim said he hoped Korea would demonstrate strong leadership for the region and further strengthen the APEC process before host responsibilities changed to Viet Nam in 2006.
"In hosting APEC Korea would like to promote our policy of open and free trade and showcase our image as a leading economy in the IT industry by publicizing 'Dynamic Korea.'
"As the host of APEC 2005, Korea sincerely wishes to make significant contributions to the APEC region achieving APEC its goals and commitments.
"In preparation for APEC 2005, Korea has consulted extensively with Member Economies. In particular, Korea is working alongside Chile as the previous host economy and Viet Nam as the next year's host economy to ensure continuity.
"We hope to build upon what we learned from Chile in 2004 and pass that along to Viet Nam in 2006 and further strengthen progress towards APEC's ultimate free trade and investment goals."
The Second Senior Officials Meeting and related meetings for 2005 are scheduled for Jeju Island, Korea, on May 21-31 and will be followed by the meeting of APEC Ministers' Responsible for Trade on June 2-3.