Asia-Pacific countries move towards strengthening regional cooperation in trade and investment

Asia-Pacific Trade & Investment Week, 18-22 November 2013

Senior government representatives of over 30 Asia-Pacific countries ended three days of United Nations-sponsored discussions here today, calling for strengthened regional cooperation in trade and investment with a special focus on the emerging development agenda beyond 2015.

The Third Session of the Committee on Trade and Investment, a regional policymakers’ forum convened biannually by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) also agreed to move forward with negotiating an arrangement on facilitation of cross-border paperless trade. The arrangement will help cut barriers to trade in the region and assist in the adoption of more efficient trade practices, in particular cross-border electronic exchange of documents.

The discussions were informed by findings in the ESCAP Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report 2013 ‘Turning the Tide: Towards Inclusive Trade and Investment’ released earlier this week which sent a strong message that the Asia -Pacific region needs to move beyond the orthodox model of export-led growth, and towards inclusive trade and investment that benefits all.

The Trade and Investment Committee session was one of the main events during the 18-22 November Trade and Investment Week. Other highlights included:

New network to facilitate trade of safe, efficient and environmentally sound agricultural machinery

Due to rapid mechanization of the agricultural sector to meet the increasing demand for more and better food, developing countries are expected to account for more than 50 percent of the global sales of agricultural machinery by 2015.

Policymakers from 14 countries from across the Asia-Pacific region pledged their support to a regional network to facilitate trade in safe, efficient and environmentally friendly agricultural machinery. The Asian and Pacific Network for Testing of Agricultural Machinery (ANTAM) was launched during a policymakers' roundtable held during the week. ANTAM is an open regional network composed of national testing stations of agricultural machinery of participating countries, research institutes, associations of agricultural machinery manufacturers and farmers organizations with an aim to promote harmonization of testing codes and standards of agricultural machinery across the region.

Region urges ‘early harvest’ at Bali WTO Ministerial

Ahead of the forthcoming 9th WTO Ministerial Conference, ESCAP convened a high-level dialogue entitled ‘Reviving Multilateralism: Road to Bali and beyond’. The WTO is at a crossroads attempting to bring to a conclusion the Doha round of trade negotiations which started in 2001. With only two weeks to go before the Bali Ministerial Conference, the dialogue provided a platform for the Asia-Pacific member States to discuss and offer a regional perspective on the Bali Package. Dialogue participants stressed the need for a deal in Bali which reaffirms the importance of the rule-based multilateral trading system.

The panel also sent a strong message that a positive outcome in Bali is a must and that they are hopeful for a declaration even if it deals with a limited outcome. Such a declaration should include issues related to Least Developed Countries (LDCs), agriculture/food security and trade facilitation. A positive agreement would become a building block for settling the remaining Doha issues.

ESCAP- OECD Conference advocates stronger Government role for facilitating responsible business

The ESCAP – OECD Conference on Regional Cooperation in Advancing Responsible Business Practices discussed what Governments in the region are doing and can do, by themselves and in collaboration, to promote responsible business practices. The discussion highlighted that while many countries in the region have started putting in place policies and mechanisms to promote responsible business practices, more can be done. Key conference findings suggest that Asia-Pacific governments should take a stronger lead in providing guidance for and establishing responsible business practices, in particular as regards to an enabling climate for responsible business practices.

Global Trade Facilitation Conference calls for cutting red tape and simplifying trade procedures

The Global Trade Facilitation Conference reviewed the latest developments in moving beyond a Single Window environment and discussed the way forward to ensure that the emergence of paperless supply chains lead to both trade facilitation and more inclusive development.

The conference highlighted that governments should encourage inter-connectivity between Single Window systems and other paperless trade systems with the objective to create an open Single Window environment that delivers integrated and high value added services to trade. The importance of developing an appropriate legal framework for national and cross-border paperless trade systems was also emphasized. The conference further reiterated that access to trade finance remains a major trade barrier for firms in developing countries, particularly SMEs. It thus called for establishing paperless systems for financing and payment settlements. The need to continue building capacities of developing countries, especially least developed and landlocked developing countries, for establishing such systems was highlighted.

Experts recommend Central Asian and Pacific countries to join APTA

An expert group meeting on Regional Integration and the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) discussed the preliminary findings of two expert studies assessing the potential benefits for economies of Central Asia and the Pacific in joining APTA.

The studies recommended that Central Asian Republics and Pacific Island States consider joining APTA, noting that, as APTA is a broad-based and comprehensive grouping already covering major economies of East, South-East and South Asia, the agreement has large potential to increase trade and investment flows with major trading economies in the region.