Mon, Nov 20, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Analysis: Analysts suggest APEC is becoming less important

OVERLOAD The grouping's evolving agenda, including everything from bird flu to the North Korean nuclear crisis, has distracted meetings from trade liberalization

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

This year's APEC leaders meeting -- with representatives from 21 member economies, along with businesspeople, government officials and reporters -- has thrust quiet Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, into the world spotlight.

But irrespective of the number and rank of people who turned up, the fact is that the importance of APEC is diminishing.

According to a survey of 370 regional opinion leaders released this week by the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC), an advisory group to APEC, concern about the viability of APEC is widespread.

Only 42 percent of respondents agreed with the statement "APEC is as important today as it was in 1989," while a majority of respondents identified "weak commitment from member economies" and "lack of focus" as key challenges facing the regional forum.

The result could be a problem for Taiwan, as APEC is a vital means for the nation to engage with the international community, both politically and economically.

"Taiwan should be alert to the situation," Wu Lin-jun (吳玲君), an associate research fellow at National Chengchi University's Institute of International Relations, said at a seminar last week.

The increase in the number of issues discussed at APEC meetings -- everything from from bird flu to the North Korean nuclear crisis -- have distracted meetings from the main focus of APEC, which originally was trade liberalization and facilitation, Wu said.

Because it operates as a nonbinding forum, APEC has trouble delivering substantial results, which is another frustration among member states, Wu said.

The rise of several other regional organizations in Asia may eclipse APEC, especially ASEAN, with China in tow, or Japan's new East Asia Summit, Wu said.

In theory, integrated trade partners are more likely to be political allies, and both ASEAN and the East Asia Summit, which exclude Taiwan, are the focus of a push to establish a regional common market, Wu said.

The US will not sit on its hands while this happens. The US pushed its own regional agenda during this year's APEC meeting -- a new APEC-wide free trade zone or Free-Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP).

The US-led initiative was originally suggested by the APEC Business Advisory Council and PECC two years ago, but was only listed as a long-term goal this year.

Despite the fact that the US said it was promoting the idea to resolve the current WTO impasse, there has been speculation that China was behind the recent move to reintroduce the plan.

Aside from the political tussles that surround its operation, APEC's well-developed committee system and working groups still make it an important organization that Taiwan should find a way to make better use of, Wu said.

One major initiative the nation has contributed to APEC is the APEC Digital Opportunity Center (ADOC). Established in 2003, ADOC aims to help eliminate the digital divide among member economies by setting up IT centers in Vietnam, Chile, Peru, the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

ADOC was extended to the "ADOC Plus" program last year to help remote townships in participating countries sell local produce on the Internet. This year, ADOC will incorporate the APEC Cultural Digital Archives Sharing initiative to promote cultural artifacts.

The series of digital projects is certainly welcomed among member economies, but a macro initiative involving the participation of all members is needed for the nation to drive the agenda and increase its presence in APEC, said Chyungly Lee (李瓊莉), an associate researcher at National Chengchi University's Institute of International Relations.

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