Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Najib Comes Away From Apec With Substantive Results

News commentary by Mikhail Raj Abdullah

LIMA (Peru), Nov 25 (Bernama) -- Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razaks maiden participation at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit was fruitful as he came away with substantive benefits for Malaysia and the region.

For starters, he got Apec leaders to agree to Kuala Lumpurs call for economies to coordinate their respective fiscal stimulus packages in the form of expansionary budget.

The keyword here was spending even in a crisis, to haul the economy out of recession, which showed that Malaysia's experience in extricating itself out of the 1997/98 crisis was not lost on Apec even after a decade.

Then Najib told the leaders about Malaysia's proposal for a naval peacekeeping force to combat piracy in the high seas, especially in the Gulf of Eden, as a concrete step to combat the menace.

This was a significant step forward in crystallising Apec's call in encouraging further concerted efforts to fight against piracy as opposed to verbal statements which only emboldened the pirates.

Wasting no time, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim phoned US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who was also in town for Apec with outgoing US President George Bush.

The result: in the next two to three weeks, the United Nations Security Council will discuss Malaysia's proposal for such a force, which will go a long way towards securing seaborne trade among regional economies.

It can become the maritime version of the land-based peace-keeping operations which has been implemented by the United Nations all this time.

Apec accounts for about 55 percent of the world's gross domestic product (GDP) and 49 percent of global trade.

Its 21 members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Russia, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

What was encouraging at this year's Apec was that it clearly reflected the high commitment among leaders towards efforts in overcoming the world financial crisis with the leaders being open and positive.

A statement read out by host and Peruvian President Alan Garcia that Apec could overcome the crisis in a period of 18 months was, however, quickly disputed by some leaders.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined his Australian counterpart Kevin Ruud to pour cold water over the "timeline", especially when many know that the worse is yet to come.

Najib said if Apec and non-Apec economies initiate a coordinated global response and members strive towards greater regional economic integration (REI), perhaps then, the global economy will show signs of recovery.

Under the broad heading of REI, Apec leaders commended the proposed Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area (FTAAP), but Malaysia expressed reservations saying it must not dilute the Asean's quest in drawing up free trade agreements with other economies.

"There should be a comprehensive study first to indicate the real benefits from the FTAAP before we can get all countries to move in that direction," Najib said.

"If we move too fast, it could exacerbate the imbalance among countries in the region and possibly dilute the initiatives currently undertaken by Asean such as negotiating free trade agreements," he said.

"We are not against it, its is just a question of timing and moving at a pace we are comfortable with," he added.

As for the Doha Round of global trade talks under the World Trade Organisation, there were the usual pronouncements calling for a successful conclusion but this time there was a sense of urgency.

International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said a quick and successful conclusion of the Doha Round could cushion the impact of economic crisis on member economies.

Leaders tasked officials to get the talks going and get it concluded by next month, but whether this can happen in just weeks after having failed for years now is left to be seen.

With Singapore hosting next year's summit, it wil be anybody's guess as to the state of the Asia-Pacific economy.

What is clear is that single-handedly, countries can do little, but by coming together sincerely along with non-Apec economies there is a good chance -- as Najib put it -- for the world to be back on track.

With economies slipping into recession like nine pins, only a global response premised on an expansionary budget can stimulate global and regional businesses.

Only this will restore confidence in member economies.

"The fiscal stimulus must be calculated on a global basis as this is necessary to save the world from sliding into recession," he said.


Najib Comes Away From Apec With Substantive Results
Bernama, Malaysia