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APEC Economies Report Improved Trade Finance, Discuss Free Trade

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The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum has released a survey that shows an improvement in financing trade in more than half of their economies. The survey was released during APEC meetings in Singapore.

The survey released Monday indicates trade finance has since July improved in most APEC economies as more cash has become available.

Twelve out of the 19 APEC economies surveyed said companies conducting trade had no serious problems accessing funds.

That compares with eight out of 18 APEC economies surveyed that felt that way in July.

The survey does not say which of APEC's 21 economies were surveyed, but says they are optimistic that trade finance will ease further in the next six months.

The survey comes as senior officials from APEC economies met for a second day in Singapore to discuss recovering from the global financial crisis and improving business in the Pacific Rim. Free trade agreements top the agenda - both agreements already in existence among members, and the proposed APEC agreement that would liberalize trade across the Pacific.

Elizabeth Chelliah is chairwoman of APEC's committee for trade and investment. She says APEC members need to learn what works in free trade agreements as they move toward creating an APEC-wide deal.

"We can actually use a ready made FTA outside there as a possible vehicle so APEC can still concentrate on doing what it's very good at doing - awareness, capacity building, dialogue issues," Chelliah said. "And [as] economies become more comfortable I hope over the next year or two we will be able to set the timeline for development of this FTA."

Chelliah says APEC members have been studying how the European Union expanded its free trade area, as well as the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand trade agreement and the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership.

Although there is no firm timetable for an APEC free trade agreement, Chelliah says there has been substantial progress on liberalizing trade among some members.

She says on Monday, Australia, Canada, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United States agreed to simplify customs procedures for preferential trading partners.

The six nations will allow companies to self-certify where goods come from so they no longer have to spend time and money going though export authorities.

The APEC leaders' week in Singapore includes meetings of finance, trade and foreign ministers as well as the heads of international companies.

The forum ends with a summit of APEC world leaders, including President Obama, making his first trip to Asia as president.