APEC Nations to Gauge Progress on Regional Pact

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By Lucien O. Chauvin

May 12 — Trade ministers from the 21 economies in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum will examine progress made toward a regional trade agreement when they meet for this first time this year May 17-18 in Arequipa, Peru.

Leaders of the APEC economies who met in Beijing in November 2014 requested a strategic study on a potential Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). The U.S. and Chinese governments were put in charge of the process. Trade ministers gathering in Arequipa will review the initial results of the study, which will be presented formally when leaders meet again in November in Lima, Peru's capital.

Although a series of issues will be on the ministerial agenda — from enhancing small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) to guaranteeing safe food supply — discussion of the FTAAP would be front and center, said Edgar Vasquez, Peru's deputy trade minister.

“A principal objective will be discussion of the FTAAP and the path forward for an eventual negotiation,” he said.

Alan Bollard, executive director of the APEC Secretariat, said the ministers would be looking at next-generation trade and economic policy. “Actions that address emerging structural impediments to trade and quality growth, and position more people to take advantage of new economic opportunities are at the top of the regional agenda,” he said in a statement.

The trade ministers will also review a March report from APEC's Policy Support Unit that said trade-driven economic development has improved living standards in member economies.

The trade ministers agreed last May in Boracay, Philippines, to build momentum toward a high-quality FTAAP. They will have new elements on the table in Arequipa, including the ratification process underway in the 12 countries — all APEC members — that form the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and impending completion in September of the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The TPP countries concluded negotiations last October and signed the agreement in February in New Zealand, kicking off a two-year ratification process.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is scheduled to be in Arequipa.

The RCEP, which includes heavyweights China, India and Japan, was launched in May 2013 and concluded its 12th negotiation in Australia on April 29. A smaller round is scheduled for June 12-18 in New Zealand.

The TPP and RCEP are considered building blocks for a future FTAAP. The TPP was conceived as a “living agreement” that would allow other countries to join if they meet the standards established in the agreement. New members are not restricted to the 21 APEC economies, but any country joining would have to be approved by consensus among existing members.

APEC accounts for 46 percent of the world's trade and 57 percent of gross domestic product. APEC members include 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 U.S. and Vietnam.

The 12 TPP members are all part of APEC, as are 12 of the 16 members in the RCEP, with the exception of Cambodia, India, Laos and Myanmar. Seven countries, Australia, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam, are part of the TPP and RCEP.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lucien O. Chauvin at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com

For More Information

The declaration from the 2015 APEC trade ministerial meeting can be found at: http://www.apec.org/Meeting-Papers/Sectoral-Ministerial-Meetings/Trade/2015_trade.aspx.

The report from the APEC Policy Support Unit can be found at: http://publications.apec.org/publication-detail.php?pub_id=1715.

A Congressional Research Service Analysis of TPP as a “living agreement” can be found at: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44489.pdf.