China plays very important role in APEC: Singapore PM

15:50, November 08, 2009      

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As a major economy, China plays a very important role in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which was formed in 1989 with the aim of promoting free trade in the region, Singapore's Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong has said.

In a recent exclusive interview with Xinhua, Lee Hsien Loong said that China plays a very important role in the APEC, contributing to the cooperation and working with other APEC members to achieve their common goals and he hopes it will continue to do so.

China's trade has grown enormously, and it is very important to the world and it is very important to China, Lee said, adding that China has a vested interest in the prosperity and stability of the region.

Describing the upcoming APEC Leaders Meeting as a timely meeting, Lee said that the meeting is taking place as the world economy is emerging from a very serious financial crisis.

The theme of the meeting is to sustain growth and to connect the region -- sustain growth so that they will have balanced, inclusive and sustainable growth in all the countries in Asia-Pacific, and connect the region so that they will have more intensive integration, freer trade and growth which are going to be something they can work together and develop for mutual benefit. These are areas which are of concern to all the APEC economies and China, not least of it, Lee said.

As for APEC's greatest contribution during the past 20 years and how the APEC can promote a more effective connection within and beyond the region to sustain economic growth, Lee said that APEC's motivating objective when it began was trade liberalization in the Asia-Pacific. And he thinks this continues to be one of APEC's most important priorities: to liberalize trade and to enhance the economic integration between the different economies in the region.

"I think that in the last 20 years, indeed, the Asia-Pacific has seen very considerable intensification of this economic relationship. Our intra-regional volume of trade has grown considerably. Trade barriers have come down. Tariffs have come down. And we have had the Bogor Declaration, I think, in 1994, which committed the members in the APEC to free trade -- for the developed economies by 2010 and for the rest of the developing members by 2020," Lee said.

Lee said that the direction has been a positive one and the APEC has contributed to this. Of course, in the last two years, because of the financial crisis, trade volumes have suffered. There is also a shift in the mood in some of the members away from free trade and a stronger attitude of protectionism which I think can be harmful to the prosperity of the region.

He stressed that this is something which the APEC needs to pay attention to, to discuss and, he hopes, will take a clear stand on, to reaffirm its commitment to free trade and to come up with new ideas which will promote a freer exchange and a more mutually-beneficial cooperation between the two countries.

"I think that there will be specific initiatives to facilitate trade between the APEC members which will promote trade between the APEC members or among the APEC members," he said, adding that "there are also partial free trade agreements which involve APEC economies, not all of them at once, but subsets of the members and this will promote trade in the Asia-Pacific. And from benefiting from the trade, we hope populations and governments will understand that it is these policies that enable the member economies to benefit and will, therefore, help them to sustain these policies."

Talking about the possibility of setting up an Asia-Pacific free trade zone that will enhance future development in the rim of the APEC, Lee said that this is a long-term objective.

"We have the idea of a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific which encompasses all the APEC members. But I think it will take many years to achieve because, firstly, on the economic point, just from the trade and economic point of view, the economies are at very different stages of development. They have very different systems and are quite disparate. So, to bring them altogether in one free trade agreement which has significant substance is not easy and it will take a long time for all the members to converge. Secondly, it is not just an economic issue, but also there are political considerations," Lee said.

But what is practical to do is for the APEC economies to have subsets, to have trade agreements with one another or as a group and then have these overlapping agreements really combine together and collectively, they promote free trade in the Asia-Pacific, Lee said.

Source:Xinhua
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