APEC trumpets free trade
By Azlan Othman in Yokohama

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and other Heads of State and Governments of APEC economies discussed issues concerning economic integration and the future of APEC at the second retreat session.

His Majesty also attended the "Trans-Pacific Partnership" (TPP) meeting, along with other Heads of State and Government of TPP countries at the InterContinental Yokohama Grand Hotel. The meeting discussed issues related to the objectives of the TPP.

During the meeting, His Majesty welcomed the inclusion of Malaysia and Vietnam into the TPP and looked forward to creating a high quality agreement that will bring in jobs and real benefits to the people.

In the afternoon, His Majesty joined other leaders of APEC economies for the presentation of the Leaders' Declaration called the 'Yokohama Vision'.

"We remain committed to maintaining open markets and fighting protectionism. We reaffirm our common resolve to support the recovery in a collaborative and coordinated way," they said in a statement.

They also pledged to refrain from competitive currency devaluations and emphasised the need to establish more balanced and sustainable growth.

In the declaration, the leaders agreed to take concrete steps towards the creation of a region wide free trade area by building on regional undertakings and seeking better quality of growth under their first-ever common strategy.

"We will take concrete steps towards the realisation of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which is a major instrument to further APEC's regional economic integration agenda. An FTAAP should be pursued as a comprehensive free trade agreement by developing and building on ongoing regional undertakings, such as Asean+3, Asean+6, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, among others.

"We have agreed that now is the time for APEC to translate FTAAP from an aspirational to a more concrete vision," the leaders said.

To this end, APEC will make an important and meaningful contribution as an incubator of FTAAP by providing leadership and intellectual input into the process of its development and by playing a critical role in defining, shaping, and addressing the "next generation" trade and investment issues that FTAAP should contain.

APEC should contribute to the pursuit of FTAAP by continuing and further developing its work on sectoral initiatives in such areas as investment; services; e-commerce; rules of origin; standards and conformance; trade facilitation; and environmental goods and services.

With WTO negotiations in limbo, the TPP seemS to be the only hope of regaining momentum in global trade reform, AFP reported quoting analysts.

Other economies including Japan and South Korea are eyeing joining the pact, but many are torn between not wanting to be left out, and reluctance to make the deep commitments TPP membership could require.

On path towards a robust community, the leaders set forth the APEC Leaders Growth Strategy as APEC's first substantial effort to provide a comprehensive long-term framework for promoting high-quality growth in the region.

"We will implement the growth strategy out to 2015, focusing on the five desired attributes of balanced, inclusive, sustainable, innovative, and secured growth. Our growth strategy includes an action plan that encompasses work elements on structural reform; human resource and entrepreneurship development; green growth; a knowledge-based economy; and human security."

The leaders also said structural reform is an integral part of their efforts towards higher quality. - Borneo Bulletin (15th November 2010)