During the APEC Second Senior Officials Meeting (SOM II) in Ho Chi Minh City, the policy dialog on Regional Trade Arrangements and Free Trade Agreements (RTAs/FTAs) took place on May 28.
Viet Nam’s Standing Deputy Foreign Minister Le Cong Phung, SOM Chairman of APEC 2006, presided over this dialog. Among the delegates were Australian Deputy Foreign and Trade Secretary David Spencer, Luis Martinez Arguello; President of the Foreign Trade Business Organizations of Mexico, Ralph Carter; FedEx Express Managing Director and APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) member; and Mr. Hoang Van Dung, Vice President of the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Other participants were business leaders and government officials from APEC member economies.
Under Viet Nam's initiative, this dialog by APEC Senior Officials on RTAs/FTAs was the first with the participation of the private sector. The dialog’s proposals will be submitted to the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) meeting on June 1-2.
Mr. Carter said that liberalization in the WTO is becoming much more difficult. Free trade agreements are therefore an important complement to the WTO and can be quite successful in stimulating trade.
He added that FTAs can open up new markets, expand investment opportunities, lower the costs of doing business and provide important legal protection for investors and entrepreneurs.
The participants discussed opportunities and challenges brought by RTAs/FTAs. They support trade liberalization via bilateral, regional and multilateral channels, with priorities given to the multilateral channels. It must ensure a level playing field and fair opportunities for all business sectors and partners, especially small, medium and super-small enterprises.
APEC should consider building an overall agreement on free trade among the APEC member economies. ABAC is thinking about this issue.
The participants agreed on the construction of a model format for RTAs/FTAs. They agreed to hold annual dialogues between Senior APEC Officials and the private sector on RTAs/FTAs.
The delegates are of the view that trade liberalization and regional trade arrangements are not the only solution to growth and prosperity, but just a means to reach this target. Therefore, it requires micro- and macro-economic reforms, and initiatives to solve internal problems and carry out shake-up.
According to the APEC Viet Nam 2006 Secretariat, an official ceremony will be held at the Re-unification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City on May 31 for Viet Nam and the US to conclude their talks on Viet Nam’s WTO accession.