JAKARTA — As long as it is conducted in a fair manner, world trade must, on balance, be viewed as beneficial to all the peoples of this planet.
Fairness means playing by the rules and bringing as many players as possible within the same rules-based regime. It also means taking the interests of all members into account and not only those of a few.
At the WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle next week, ASEAN ministers will insist on fairness in the conduct of a new round of trade negotiations that may be launched.
They will push vigorously for further liberalization of world trade in food and agriculture, freer movement of persons, and lowering of tariff on labor-intensive manufactured products — not only for Southeast Asians but for other developing countries as well.
They will also he calling for effective market access for developing country products such as garments and textiles, curbing of the abuse of anti-dumping measures, and support for capacity-building and technical assistance for developing countries. All these were the subjects of commitments in the previous round of negotiations that have not been adequately fulfilled.
ASEAN’s economic resurgence can be buttress by a fairly conducted millennium round of WTO trade talks. We are recovering faster than most expected. Already recovery is impressive. Real GDP growth rates are expected to be in the range of 1 percent to 6 percent this year.
Reinforcing this momentum, stability in foreign exchange markets has returned. Current accounts and international reserves have improved. Domestic interest rates are lower and inflation has been subdued. Stock markets are being revitalized. Consumer confidence has improved, and industrial production is back on the rise.
With a market of more than 590 million people and a combined GDP of $737 billion, ASEAN has total trade of $720 billion, the fourth largest in the World after the Europe Union, the United States and Japan.
Our experience of crisis and recovery has revitalized our commitment not only to open markets but to the structural reforms reviving these markets. We have accelerated implementation of the ASEAN Free Trade Area to greatly enhance the region’s competitiveness.
The leading trading members of ASEAN are committed to bringing down tariffs on almost all products to not more than 5 percent by the beginning of 2002. We also have embarked on a plan whereby each country would grant domestic market access and extend national treatment to foreign investors in the manufacturing sector.
To keep the tempo of recovery going, ASEAN seeks to promote financial stability through a surveillance process to monitor economic performance, especially macroeconomic indicators and capital flows. We are encouraging our members to strengthen regulatory regimes for the banking systems and to improve corporate governance, transparency and disclosure while continuing to deregulate their financial services.
ASEAN has gone through serious challenges in recent years, from the regional currency crisis, to the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, but we are emerging with a new recognition of the contributions we can make and the opportunities we can offer in a free and dynamic global marketplace.
Looking back over the 30 years since ASEAN was founded, the progress we have achieved is remarkable. We have maintained uninterrupted peace, and stability among our member states and have lived by sound and solid principles — unity in diversity, consultation and consensus. ASEAN is committed to meeting the challenges of globalization in the new millennium.