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HONOLULU (Dec. 10, 2010)—As the United States begins its year as host of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the senior U.S. representative to APEC, Ambassador-designate Kurt Tong, said that key U.S. goals for the year include moving forward on wide-ranging free-trade agreements in the region and promoting “green growth” policies.

Tong told an audience of business and community leaders in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, that by the time the leaders of APEC’s 21 member economies meet in their city next November, American officials hope to achieve “a real sense of U.S. leadership in the region on multilateral economic policy.” Tong’s Dec. 7 speech came on the eve of a two-day agenda-setting conference of senior representatives to APEC that was the first event in the U.S. year of hosting the forum.

(Click here to view a video of the speech.)

“The United States very much sees itself as part of the Asia Pacific community,” Tong said, “and we need to do much more to deepen our relationship with the region, so that as it grows, we grow.” “It’s important to the entire U.S. economic recovery that we get this right,” he said, noting that the APEC region is responsible for more than over half of the total global economy, and consumes 58 percent of all exported U.S. goods.

Tong said the U.S. shares a common vision with other APEC members of establishing a platform for economic activity in the Asia Pacific that is open, transparent and fair.

APEC is the premier forum for Asia-Pacific economies to cooperate on regional trade and investment issues. The organization’s annual meetings are hosted each year by a different member economy, and 2011 is the United States’ first turn as host since the first meeting convened on Blake Island, Washington in 1993. In November 2009, President Obama selected his home state of Hawai‘i as the site of the main APEC 2011 meetings.

Tong said one of APEC’s particular strengths is its “bottom-up” process, which, in addition to an annual meeting of top leaders includes frequent meetings throughout the year of cabinet-level ministers, senior officials and working groups, as well as a conference of regional CEOs. “At the leaders’ level, people are applying political will to the problems at hand,” he said, “but you also have a technical grounding in the agreements reached.”

Another strength, he said, is “having direct private sector input into the APEC process, to a greater degree than any other international organization that I know of. At every level, you have participation between the public and private sectors simultaneously, bouncing off each other and coming up with better outcomes.”

Tong said the U.S. delegation would be looking to build on the outcomes of the recent APEC summit in Yokohama, Japan, which he termed “very significant.” These include:

  • A report on open trade and investment goals that the APEC leaders set for 2010 for developed economies (specifically the U.S, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand), and 2020 for other member economies.

“We’ve done a lot [since the goals were set in 1994],” Tong said. “Trade has tripled over that time period, and the average tariff rate among the economies has been cut in half. But significant work remains in specific sectors such as agriculture, and there is an increasing perception that we really need to get to work on issues about how economies are domestically managed, and the impact that has on other economies.”

  • A statement on a long-discussed concept for a region-wide free trade area. For the first time, the Yokohama statement laid out a specific common goal for a binding, comprehensive free trade agreement signed by all 21 economies that goes beyond just tariffs to address a host of other issues, including the right of member countries to comment on the domestic economic policies of others.

“That’s a huge breakthrough,” Tong said. “It’s very significant that all 21 economies now say this is a legitimate exercise, that they’re open to comment from others, and they’re going to figure out a way to arrange their economic affairs so we can all get along much more closely.” Tong said the U.S. hopes to expand on the outcomes of the Yokohama meeting to take “an extremely results-oriented approach” during its year as APEC host. He cited three main tools in accomplishing that:

  • The long-pending U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement that was just recently finalized by the Obama and Lee administrations but still requires congressional ratification. “By the time we meet in Honolulu next November, we hope to have that agreement passed by Congress and well on the road toward implementation,” Tong said.
     
  • Negotiations on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement among nine APEC members: the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Chile, and Peru. A round of negotiations on furthering that agreement was held this week in New Zealand.
     
  • APEC discussions on what are known as “next-generation” trade and investment issues, including green growth and “regulatory convergence” to bring regulations and standards in different economies into closer alignment in a systematic way.

“If all three of those elements come together, I think the U.S. will have succeeded in very much re-establishing its sense of leadership and engagement in the Asia Pacific region,” Tong said, “and that will be recognized by all our partners in the region.”

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