Mon, 24 Feb 2003

APEC to meet in Bangkok on anti-terrorism

Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Top economic officials from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member countries will meet in Bangkok on Monday to discuss ways of enhancing anti-terrorism security and help boost regional trade.

Rifana Erni, directorate general of domestic trade affairs at the Ministry of Trade and Industry said that the planned two-day meeting would be focused on the "Secure Trade" initiative proposed by the U.S.

"But we want to know what the U.S. concept is really about," Erni told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

APEC secretariat said in a statement that the meeting would begin working on reforms aimed at increasing both security controls and the export trade.

The reforms are part of the Secure Trade in the APEC Region (STAR) initiative, launched at last year's APEC leaders summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Leaders then agreed to work to secure the flow of goods and people through measures to protect cargo, ships engaged in international voyages, international aviation and people in transit.

"All APEC economies are strengthening air and sea port security to protect against terrorist activities and threats," APEC executive director Piamsak Milintachinda said in the statement as quoted by AFP.

"Increasingly stringent port processing procedures that are not operating at full efficiency could incur additional transaction expenses for exporters through delays and lost opportunities," he said.

The issue of providing cargo and passenger details before they leave their port of embarkation would be high on the agenda, Piamsak said, along with discussions of a program to assure container security.

Improvements to regional air safety will also be discussed, he said.

According to Erni, her office is now boosting supervision on the flow of goods traded at home to help ensure the safety of the products and help stop terrorism.

"We are now conducting a check on the goods (both locally made and imported) traded in the country. This is also aimed at hampering terrorist attacks," Erni said.

Fears of terrorism continue to haunt the region following a number of bomb blasts in the region by the Java-based Muslim group Jamaah Islamiyah (JI).

After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and, more recently the Oct. 12 Bali terror attacks, the threat of terrorism has been a major concern at all the APEC meetings.

The two highest-profile terrorist attacks of recent years happened in APEC nations, the U.S. and Indonesia.

Last year, the summit in Mexico took place just two weeks after the blast in Bali which killed more than 200 people, mostly international tourists.

The Asian Development Bank, World Bank, International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization are scheduled to make presentations at the Monday conference, co- hosted by the United States and Thailand.

APEC was set up in November 1989 and designed to boost regional economic cooperation and investment liberalization.

It now has 21 member countries of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

Thailand is to host this year's APEC leaders summit in October.