10:35 AM Jul 19, 1996


Penang 19 July (Martin Khor) -- Reports in Asian newspapers Friday indicate that the region's major organisations, ASEAN and APEC, are opposing the introduction of new issues in the WTO.

In Jakarta, where ASEAN senior officials are currently meeting to prepare for the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, Malaysia's top foreign ministry official, Ahmad Kamil Jaafar, said Thursday that ASEAN would take a common stand on issues relating to the WTO.

"We are not prepared to discuss new issues at the WTO Ministerial meeting in Singapore, and we would like to focus on completing the Uruguay Round process," said Kamil, whose comments were reported in The Star, a Malaysian daily.

"Malaysia is against new issues like rights of foreign investors as we cannot give national treatment rights to foreigners," he added. "We are also not in favour of the proposed competition policy rules."

In Manila, the Philippine Trade and Industry undersecretary Cesar Bautista said Thursday that the 18-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) refused to entertain new issues in the WTO, especially at the Singapore Ministerial conference.

He said this was the consensus that emerged during the APEC trade ministers' meeting recently in Christchurch.

His comments were reported in the Manila paper, Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Chaired by Philippine Trade and Industry secretary Rizalino Navarro, the APEC meeting was held specifically to come out with common Apec positions for the Singapore meeting.

Bautista said Apec trade ministers believe the WTO has to give high priority to the long list of unfinished business and the built-in agenda of the Uruguay Round before entertaining new topics.

Unfinished business include those related to maritime, basic telecommunications and financial services. The WTO's 14-point built-in agenda include domestic regulations on trade and services, new round of negotiations on services, exemption from MFN treatment, aviation rights, professional services, anti-circumvention issues, rules of origin, environment and countervailing measures.

He said that Apec ministers are determined to make progress in these areas before dealing with new issues.

If ever new topics are to be included in the coming WTO meetings, Bautista said, issues should meet the following criteria: impact on trade, maturity of the topic for discussion and suitability of WTO as a forum.