Sat, 08 Oct 1994

APEC leaders to gain consensus on free trade

JAKARTA (JP): APEC leaders will likely reach a consensus on the adoption of free trade in the region during their upcoming summit in November despite differences in perceptions on the region, a visiting U.S. official says.

Deputy United States Trade Representative (USTR) Charlene Barshefsky expressed such optimism in a press conference here yesterday, based on the fact that the differences on this issue concern the modalities of free trade rather than philosophical principles among the member countries of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

"My assumption is that through further senior officials meetings, ministerial meetings and leaders meetings, it is going to be worked out," she said.

She further added that despite the apparent objection of particular countries, "it ought to be possible to work out a consensus on modality."

Nevertheless, she acknowledged that her projection might be a bit "overly optimistic."

Barshefsky was in Indonesia to attend Thursday's one-day meeting of APEC ministers in charge of trade.

The meeting was attended by representatives from all the 17 members of the forum as well as Chile, which will assume full membership at the APEC Ministerial Meeting here in November.

APEC groups Canada, China, Japan, the United States, Mexico, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, which currently chairs the forum.

Recently the forum's Eminent Persons Group (EPG) called on the leaders to adopt a date for free trade in the area by no later than 2020.

On Nov. 15, the forum's leaders are scheduled to gather at the Bogor Palace to conduct their second meeting, which will follow the inaugural APEC leaders meeting on Blake Island, Seattle, last year.

When opening Thursday's meeting, President Soeharto stated his high hopes that the Bogor meeting will produce fundamental agreements on the type and rate of trade and investment liberalization.

Barshefsky said that her country was not averse to the establishment of a date, and that nevertheless such an assignment should be the sole prerogative of the leaders.

"We remain flexible and open-minded as to the outcome of that discussion," she said.

She remarked that achieving a consensus is a difficult process since everyone has to compromise a little bit to get such unanimity.


Meanwhile, a visiting representative of Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung of Germany, Kai Michael Schellhorn, said in a discussion at The Jakarta Post that "a big clash" will break out at the Bogor meeting due to differences of opinion among the forum's members.

Because the establishment of APEC started with a Westernized idea, its Western member countries will likely try to institutionalize the forum but the members grouped in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will not accept institutionalization on legal bases, he said.

However, the leaders are expected to reach agreement at the Bogor meeting on plans to achieve certain goals of the forum, he said.

Schellhorn said the differences will cause APEC to need a long period of time to "get its members in one boat."

When asked about the European Union (EU)'s perception of APEC, Schellhorn said that the EU, which is economically self-centered has no argument against any other regional groupings, like APEC and the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA). (mds/icn)