APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting — Session Two: Priorities for APEC 2012

Kazan, Russia

Speech, check against delivery

4 June 2012

Thank you Chair. Australia has long been a very strong supporter of the multilateral trading system but, at the same time, of regional economic integration through APEC. How do we reconcile these two positions?

The answer is that, while we seek the best possible outcomes through the World Trade Organization Doha Round of negotiations, at the same time APEC has proven to be a very effective vehicle for what amounts to unilateral reductions in trade barriers. This has been pursuant to the Bogor Declaration back in 1994 and these unilateral reductions have been made more feasible politically within a particular economy by the confidence that other countries are doing the same. So while it hasn’t had the same operation as the global trade talks, APEC itself has achieved a great deal, not only in reducing barriers at the borders but behind the borders — which brings us back to the discussion we had earlier on trade facilitation where we think obviously there is much more that can be done.

One way of getting to regional economic integration through APEC is a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. The concept is a very good one and it has been endorsed time and time again by Leaders of the APEC economies. And the vehicle indeed for getting to the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific can be the Trans-Pacific Partnership which does in fact constitute nine economies that are all members of APEC and three others that are signalling a keen interest in the idea of joining the TPP.

The other vehicle that is possible too is RCEP [Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership]. We think that there are, as in the Doha Round, many pathways to the mountain top. What is most important is not the journey but the destination, and the destination in this case would be a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. Internally within the region, as [New Zealand Trade] Minister Tim Groser has pointed out, we have a very high quality agreement through AANZFTA, the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, on which we have built most recently a bilateral agreement with Malaysia — again a high quality agreement that seems to have been very well received in both countries and involves further acceleration of tariff reductions and some issues that aren’t in the AANZFTA agreement. We’re also in negotiation with Indonesia and a separate negotiation on a bilateral basis with Korea, China and Japan and it’s Australia’s hope that we will be able to bring those to successful conclusions sooner rather than later.

But all of this contributes to this goal of regional economic integration and I think in this way we can reconcile our countries’ support for global trade rules with the building blocks that are there to be put in place towards a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific to achieve regional economic integration.

And we consider it an important part of that work that has been initiated on environmental goods. Mr Chair, we believe that based on the discussions held by trade ministers last year and then endorsed by Leaders last year that we do have an obligation to finalise a list of environmental goods. I would be very anxious about spending any time developing criteria and principles because that itself could be the subject of extensive negotiation leading to little or no progress in the actual task of developing lists of environmental goods.

It seems to be perfectly feasible that we could develop a core list of environmental goods for endorsement by Leaders at Vladivostok this year. In my view there is not a strong, compelling reason why that could not be done. If there are some environmental goods where there is some disagreement because they might be on the margins, of whether they truly do constitute environmental goods, they could be pushed to one side for a time. But developing a strong core list of environmental goods for which tariffs would be limited to 5 per cent I think is a feasible task and one frankly that our Leaders have asked us to implement. And so I can close with this observation: that from Australia’s point of view we should get on with our job and complete the lists and present those lists to the Leaders’ Meeting in Vladivostok.

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