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APEC Members Urged To Commit To Asia-Pacific FTA

by Mary Swire, Lowtax.net, Hong Kong
12 February, 2014

During his opening speech at the 2014 Pacific Economic Cooperation Council in Singapore, which focused on the "New Priorities of Regional Economic Integration" for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry, Lim Hng Kiang, urged its member countries to commit to working towards a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

It has been noted previously that there are a number of possible pathways that could eventually lead to the FTAAP, a vision for which had been first set out in 2004. In 2010 in Japan, and then again in Bali in 2013, APEC Leaders had concretized the FTAAP to be a comprehensive, high quality agreement, developed and built on the ongoing talks on regional trade agreements (RTAs) and bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs), which are addressing, not only tariffs, but also "next generation" trade and investment issues.

The "mutually reinforcing pathways to the FTAAP," Lim said, would include the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) Economic Community, the Pacific Alliance, the proposed expansion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between ASEAN and its six FTA partners.

In his speech, Lim looked for "a revival of the discussions we have been having, on and off, on the FTAAP, over the past ten years. … While discussions would naturally involve intricate complexities, the challenge should not be seen as too overwhelming for APEC. APEC economies already belong to several regional initiatives. Our current journeys should place us in good stead to take the next step towards the FTAAP."

In particular, Lim added, APEC needs to "explore ways to bring the various paths together smoothly," by answering questions such as the best way to ensure that the FTAAP is comprehensive and current in scope, for example by ensuring complete product coverage for the elimination of tariffs and incorporating issues from the most contemporary FTAs, including "cumulative rules of origin" and "robust transparency and trade facilitation principles to minimize non-tariff barriers."

Lim pointed out that the RCEP and TPP will be current agreements when concluded. "The RCEP could potentially transform the region into an integrated market of over 3bn people, with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than USD17 trillion, or about a third of the world's current annual GDP," he noted. "The TPP will include 21st century issues, like e-commerce, intellectual property, competition, and regulatory coherence."

"Both agreements must inform and feed into the FTAAP," he stressed. "From these we can see that while the FTAAP will be highly complex and challenging to negotiate, we are not starting from a zero base."

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