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Business Leaders Criticize APEC for Diverting Attention from Trade - 2003-10-21


Business leaders from around the world, meeting in tandem with national leaders from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group, say the forum needs more relevance to the business community. Executives say APEC must promote trade or risk its credibility.

Business leaders have put the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum on notice for diverting its attention from trade and economic development.

Executives attending a CEO business forum on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Bangkok accuse APEC of falling short in such basic tasks as communicating its achievements.

At the conclusion of the forum, Australian executive Peter Charlton said APEC's attempts to communicate have been "abysmal." "Unless there is progress, people will go around thinking that APEC represents leaders in funny shirts once a year," he said.

APEC, set up in 1989, brings together economies ringing the Pacific Ocean. Its members account for 2.5 billion people producing more than half the world's total output. Its mission, as its name implies, is encouraging economic cooperation among its members.

But executive vice president Michael Drucker of shipping compnay FedEx Express International said APEC needs to re-assess its goals. "I think often times these institutions begin to take on a life of their own. And that is why we are at an important crossroad, where we have to rethink and restate our objectives," he said.

This APEC meeting concluded with members calling for the World Trade Organization to re-start global trade negotiations. WTO talks failed in September after rich and poor nations clashed over trade barriers and subsidies.

Hernan Somerville, chairman of the Chilean Association of Banks and Financial Institutions, said APEC members' failure to band together at the WTO talks risked the group's credibility. "So what is the purpose of having a group, non-binding, like APEC if you have a major negotiation and the APEC countries are not even able to work out a common position?"

Business leaders say that to remain relevant, APEC should concentrate its energies on meeting the challenges of free trade.

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