Agreement Reached On Apec Fish & Forestry Deals

  • Dr Lockwood Smith

APEC Ministers have achieved a breakthrough agreement on Early Voluntary Sectoral Liberalisation (EVSL) of nine priority sectors, including fish and forest products, Trade Minister Lockwood Smith said from Kuala Lumpur today.

The other sectors are chemicals, energy, environmental goods and services, gems and jewellery, medical equipment, toys and a telecommunications mutual recognition agreement.

"We have secured the package we have been striving for over the last 18 months," Dr Smith said. "We have achieved what for a time looked impossible."

Dr Smith said the agreement was to move to the tariff target and elimination dates endorsed by Trade Ministers in Kuching earlier this year. He said Japan was participating fully in all nine sectors and there was a firm commitment to expand participation beyond APEC in the World Trade Organisation as a matter of priority.

"In fish and forest products, the agreement is to move to zero tariffs by goals of 2004 or 2005 respectively for most products," he said. "Extra flexibility, in terms of longer staging, has been provided for, mainly for developing economies. Industrialised economies would be allowed flexibility for an even more limited number of tariff lines."

Dr Smith said it was contemplated that APEC economies would begin to autonomously implement the liberalisation elements of the package on a voluntary basis. He urged all economies to make maximum efforts to do so saying a number of his APEC colleagues had observed that opening domestic markets had an important role to play in promoting sustainable economic growth.

"The other key outcome is to take the package to the WTO to broaden participation and to legally bind the results of the agreement. This will not only lead to greatly expanded trade opportunities but greater certainty for our trade," he said. "Importantly, the agreement makes clear that taking the package to Geneva will not prejudice the shape of a future WTO Round."

Aside from tariff liberalisation, the EVSL package contains important agreements on non-tariff measures, subsidies, standards and conformance, and economic and technical cooperation.

"Agreeing to the outcome - particularly with respect to fish and forest products - has not been easy for a number of economies, and I commend ministers from these economies for their far-sighted decisions.

"The agreement on EVSL is extremely significant and has been achieved against the background of the most severe economic crisis the region has faced for many years.

"Aside from anything else, the outcome is an excellent response to the crisis, sending the clear signal that all APEC economies are prepared to move forward in opening markets which is important for the prosperity of all member economies, including New Zealand.

"On the eve of New Zealand's year in the chair, it is a clear demonstration of the value of APEC," Dr Smith concluded.