by Wang Bo
BALI, Indonesia, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- In 1994, APEC members convening in the Indonesian city of Bogor set the goal of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region, better known as the Bogor Goals, which have since remained the inspirational strength behind APEC's agenda.
When it again played host to APEC summit again nearly two decades later, Indonesia made attaining the Bogor Goals high on the agenda. Analysts believe that the move would help put the region back on a path of sound and sustainable growth amid weak global economic recovery.
MARKED PROGRESS, CHALLENGES REMAIN
The Bogor Goals, the result of consensus that takes into account members' different levels of socio-economic development, set 2010 for developed members and 2020 for developing members to achieve free trade and investment.
Unfortunately, however, despite marked progress in reducing tariff and some other areas, many members still have a long way toward attaining the goal.
According to a 2012 progress report issued by APEC Policy Support Unit, progress has been made in all areas. The average tariff in the region has reduced from 17 percent in 1989 to 5.8 percent in 2012, much lower than the average 10.3 percent in other regions. However, average tariffs in agriculture remain higher than other sectors. Member economies have made efforts to open their service trade,improve investment conditions, align to international standards, strengthen intellectual property rights and competition systems, and push for regulatory reforms.
Statistics from the Asian Development Bank indicates that more APEC developing economies are benefiting from robust domestic demand and greater trade with their neighbors in the region.
However, progress has been uneven across different sectors and non-tariffs still remain. There are still restrictions in terms of market access, national treatment and local presence. Barriers to foreign investment are still common, especially in areas considered of domestic strategic interest.
There are speculations that it seems unlikely that all APEC members can manage to attain the Bogor Goals.
TACKLING A BROADER GOAL WITH NEW FOCUS
Therefore, host Indonesia decided to make attaining Bogor Goals one of the three priorities for the current summit, aiming to seek a clarification of the goal, which, as put by Mahendar Siregar, Indonesia's vice finance minister, "would allow not only a clearer articulation for 2020 targets but also lead to a creation of an agreed framework to better achieve the target."
Some observers noted that the move is not meant only to reiterate members' commitment to the Bogor Goals, but offer an opportunity to re-focus APEC's efforts toward a goal broader than the traditional trade liberalization paradigm and upgrade guidelines for attaining the 2020 targets under the new circumstances.
As most members achieved greater degree of economic openness, APEC should shift its focus from removing tariffs to promoting cross-border cooperation on issues such as fostering multilateral trading system, improving trade finance, enhancing transparency and harmonization of regulation among economies, they said.
Allan Bollard, executive director of APEC Secretariat, said in a recent interview with Xinhua that he saw the next stage of APEC' s focus to be on regulatory reforms and harmonization of standards.
"APEC should be here doing interesting new things, trying out new ideas, though some of them won't work, and some of them will," he said.
CHANGING ECONOMIC LANDSCAPE CALLS FOR NEW APPROACH
Moreover, the world economic landscape has been vastly different from the days when the Bogor Goals were first set.
The world economic recovery has remained elusive because of the lingering effect of global financial crisis. Many APEC economies have been confronted with multiple challenges of capital outflow, currency devaluation, economic slowdown and rising inflation.
Many developing members which have followed an export and manufacturing-oriented growth model were hard hit by the continued sluggishness in the United States, euro area and other traditional markets.
These factors combined require that the developing members transform their growth model and shift their focus to domestic and intra-regional demand.
APEC members are widely expected to take what has achieved in attaining the Bogor goal as a new starting point and strive for tangible results at the current summit in promoting multilateral trade system.
They are also expected to coordinate regional free trade arrangement and enhance connectivity and infrastructure building in the Asia and Pacific region.