Hon Mark Vaile, Chair of TMM5
APEC Transportation Ministers and Delegates
It is my pleasure to speak at this meeting of APEC Transportation Ministers which is taking place at a time when APEC, following the directions set by APEC Leaders in Hanoi last November, is undertaking major efforts to reinvigorate and refocus itself and to streamline its activities through an ambitious reform agenda.
To put your work in a broader context, I would like to give you a brief outline of APEC 2007's key current priorities and, in particular, to highlight where APEC's priorities intersect directly with the work of the Transport Ministers Meeting.
In brief, APEC's priorities this year are to support multilateral trade negotiations in the WTO; to make it easier and cheaper to conduct business in the APEC region by reducing behind-the-border barriers through an ambitious structural reform agenda; to address human security issues of concern to governments and business; and to improve energy security and sustainable development. All of these priorities directly touch on the agenda of this meeting.
The first priority on the APEC agenda is working towards strengthening the multilateral trading system and to achieving the Bogor goals for free and open trade and investment. For APEC economies the WTO remains the primary mechanism by which we aim to attain free and open trade. At their meeting in Ha Noi last November, APEC Leaders made a commitment for APEC Member Economies to move beyond their current positions on key areas of the WTO DDA negotiations and called for others to do likewise. This means: making deeper reductions in trade-distorting farm support; creating new market access in agriculture; achieving real cuts in industrial tariffs; and establishing new openings in services trade. With its diverse cross-section of economies, APEC is a barometer of broader WTO member sentiments. A key issue for APEC this year is to identify what it can do to support and advance the DDA which remains a very fluid and uncertain process.
Free Trade Arrangements (FTAs) and Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) are also important mechanisms for APEC Member Economies not only to strengthen the multilateral trading system but also to enhance regional economic integration. Ten years ago there were only three intra-APEC FTAs - now there are 20 and at least a dozen under development. To ensure more comprehensive, transparent and high-quality agreements, APEC has developed a series of model measures that serve as a reference for APEC member economies in the negotiation of FTAs and RTAs. Six of these model measures were developed in 2006 and more are planned for 2007.
Last November APEC Leaders also tasked officials to prepare a study on ways to promote regional economic integration, including a Free Trade Area in the Asia Pacific as a long-term prospect. This is the first time this issue has been on the formal Leaders agenda and the report will be completed in time to be presented to Leaders when they meet in Sydney in September.
Making it easier and cheaper to conduct business are key priorities for APEC. Business people tell us that behind-the-border issues such as improving investment environments in member economies, standards and conformance, competition policy, public sector and corporate governance and the strengthening of economic legal infrastructure are at least as important to them as the traditional trade policy issues and, in the long run, potentially offer greater gains to business. This year APEC is placing new emphasis on addressing these issues through its structural economic reform and trade facilitation agendas.
Two of APEC's current priorities that are of particular interest to this meeting, since they directly intersect with transportation, are human security and energy.
Human security continues to be high on the agenda of APEC Leaders and Ministers. It is not enough simply to liberalise our markets if we do not address potentially destabilising risks. Terrorist activities, natural disasters and health pandemics all pose a serious threat to regional economic growth and stability. Ensuring the safety of our people and enhancing the security of our transportation sector have become a major focus of APEC in recent years.
APEC Member Economies are home to most of the world's largest seaports and busiest airports. Even the slightest interruption to regional supply chains would produce a multiplier effect damaging to business activities all along the supply chain with resultant economic downturns, diminished business growth and lost jobs.
To help protect this vital part of our regional economy, total supply-chain security is now a major APEC agenda item -particularly as it relates to cooperation with the private sector.
Importantly, the business community is strongly supporting APEC's work on these issues and is looking to work closely with APEC in public-private partnership. And it is here that an organization such as APEC, with its approach of achieving consensus and establishing best practice, and providing valuable capacity-building to those economies that require it, provides an exceptional opportunity to achieve progress on these issues.
APEC's energy agenda also impacts on transportation. APEC Leaders last November, in noting that energy security was critical for sustainable economic development, asked Ministers to report to them this year on improving energy efficiency. For the transportation sector this has two components. The first is achieving greater energy efficiency in the transportation sector through better processes and technologies. And secondly, energy security requires not just access to reliable energy supplies but also efficient and secure transport of these supplies.
APEC Member Economies have done a lot of work already in this area including the Energy Security Initiative that involves a series of short-term measures to respond to energy supply disruptions and longer-term policy responses to address broader energy security challenges. These include actions to strengthen security so as to prevent physical attacks on sea-lanes and storage facilities and to ensure all members also have access to the APEC Real Time Emergency Information Sharing System so as to manage damage caused by interruptions to the region's energy supply.
These issues will feature in discussions among APEC Energy Ministers when they meet in Darwin in late May. And, no doubt, the discussions at this meeting that impact on energy supply chain issues will be of considerable interest to Energy Ministers.
Likewise, these matters will also be of interest when government and business representatives meet at the Secure Trade in the Asia-Pacific Region (STAR) Conference in Sydney in June which will attract significant business interest and participation.
Discussions at this meeting therefore are the first of a series of high level APEC meetings this year that will discuss the security and safety of trade flows in the APEC region. Initiatives to ensure the integrity of regional transport systems are an integral part of this process.
The initiatives to be discussed and agreed here will provide clear directions to address current challenges facing the transport sector and will set the future transport agenda in the APEC region. It is also important that they lead into tangible deliverables for APEC Economic Leaders when they meet in Sydney in September.
I wish you a successful and enjoyable meeting.