Thu, 25 Aug 1994

U.S. has no plan to change APEC to formal body: Barry

JAKARTA (JP): U.S. Ambassador Robert Barry said here yesterday that his government has no intention of changing the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum into a formal body or trade grouping.

Speaking at a meeting of Asia and Pacific businessmen, the U.S. ambassador said that APEC, which groups 17 countries in the Asia-Pacific rim, would be better maintained as an informal, loose organization.

Barry said that turning the organization into a trade grouping similar to the European Community (EC) or North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) would be difficult due to the different stages of the economies of its members, as well as to the difference in their cultures.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad boycotted APEC's first summit meeting in Seattle, the United States, last year due to his opposition to the alleged U.S. plan to turn the organization into a trade block similar to the EC and NAFTA.

In his address at yesterday's meeting, the U.S. ambassador said that APEC, even under its present status as a loose and informal organization, still has the potential to simplify and facilitate important economic relations.

He acknowledged that business negotiations carried out under the informal organization would take time.

"But little by little, different working groups in the organization are chipping away barriers to trade and investment," he told around 140 Asia and Pacific businessmen at the meeting.

APEC has a number of working groups to discuss and recommend possible cooperation between the member countries.


Barry said that one of APEC's working groups is developing an affordable, usable data base, that will allow companies in any member country to find our what import duties are on their products in other member countries.

Another group, he said, is working to try to make product standards requirements more uniform, while another brings customs officials together to make their requirements more uniform as well.

"All of these activities, although they are not earth- shattering in themselves, will grease the nuts and bolts of trade in APEC," he said.

He was optimistic that the activities would also play an important role in dismantling trade barriers among its member countries.

The meeting, which will end today, is organized by APB Net, a business forum established by the national business organizations of the APEC members early last year.

Speakers at the meeting include Harold Clough, the president of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Aburizal Bakrie, the president of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), Koichiro Ejiri, the president of the Japan Foreign Trade Council, and Indonesia's State Minister for Investment Sanyoto Sastrowardoyo.

In his address, Ejiri, also the chairman of Mitsui and Co., called for maintaining APEC as a place for mutual communication concerning open economic policies rather than a place for negotiations.

He said that turning APEC into a trade grouping could be counterproductive because negotiations among countries at different stages of the development of their economies would not be effective.

Ejiri said that it will be more realistic and beneficial for each member country to pursue open economic policies in line with the spirit of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) by utilizing the dynamics of spontaneous economic zones rising in the region. (hen)