COUNTRIES DIFFER ON ROLE OF ASIA PACIFIC GROUP

COUNTRIES DIFFER ON ROLE OF ASIA PACIFIC GROUP

Here's how participating countries will be approaching this year's Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) ministerial meeting:

AUSTRALIA

Australia's concern is the evolution of APEC. It sees trade and investment liberalization as a central element of APEC's future.

For Prime Minister Paul Keating, APEC should be a means to promote and enhance the dynamism of the region in terms of economic growth and industrial potential. He supports the idea of an APEC free-trade area, but prefers a gradual evolution.

BRUNEI

Brunei does not want to see APEC develop into a trade bloc, being very much an advocate of global free trade. It sees APEC as a mechanism for countries to cooperate with each other.

Its position is usually in line with that of fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean): Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

CANADA

Unlike its predecessor, which made close ties with the United States a priority, Canada's new liberal government is placing greater emphasis on relations with the Pacific Rim.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien and International Trade Minister Roy MacLaren are expected to underline the critical role that the Pacific Rim will be playing within Canada's trade and investment diversification strategy.

CHINA

China will use the meeting to improve trade ties with the United States.

The Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation said China will propose that, "as a basic principle of APEC activities," all members should grant each other unconditional most-favored-nation (MFN) trade status.

"Whether progress of the meeting will be affected if the U.S. does not agree to our proposal will depend upon the results of consultation among the members of APEC," said Zhu Mincai, the ministry's information department director.

Beijing does not oppose the gradual institutionalization of APEC.

HONG KONG

Hong Kong attends APEC meetings carrying a simple message: "Let free trade reign!"

The island does not want anything to undermine the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Swiss-based referee of world merchandise trade.

INDONESIA

Like fellow Asean members, Indonesia suspects that the United States has a secret agenda to render APEC a closed regional grouping. It will object to any move to rigidly structure APEC.

JAPAN

Japan plans a middle-of-the-road stance on issues related to the current GATT round of trade liberalization talks and APEC's future.

Some officials expect President Clinton to push for a strong APEC trade liberalization agreement to pressure the European Community into a Uruguay Round agreement by Dec. 15. Japan would not welcome such a move. It does not want to offend the EC, a major market for Japanese goods.

Japan will maneuver between Malaysia's push for a stronger Asian identity and the U.S. bid to maintain North American participation, if not leadership, in APEC initiatives.

It could support a slower trade liberalization schedule than the United States would like.

"(Asean countries) have just embarked on a program to cut tariffs, so you can imagine they are reluctant to go for an immediate liberalization," said Yoshihiro Sakamoto, a Ministry of Trade and Industry director general.

Because of its huge capital reserves, however, Japan likely will side with the United States for faster liberalization of investment rules, an area where East and Southeast Asia also want a more modest pace.

MALAYSIA

The specter at the feast may be Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, known for his frequently waspish tongue and inherent suspicion of what "the West" is up to.

Minister of International Trade and Industry Rafidah Aziz will go to Seattle in his stead, having evidently been persuaded by her boss to rearrange a Florida golfing holiday planned for the time.

Mr. Mahathir is miffed because the United States - and some regional neighbors - decline to back his brainchild, the East Asia Economic Caucus, an Asia-only group that pointedly excludes North America and Australasia.

If the others decide to make APEC a trading bloc, which some think may be necessary if protectionism increases abroad, Malaysia may just quit altogether, Mr. Mahathir has said.

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand is looking for moves toward a wide open trading system. It likely will continue to talk up bilateral and multilateral negotiations, with an eye toward harmonized customs procedures and investment processes.

New Zealand also hopes APEC will make progress on an Asia-Pacific clearinghouse for ideas.

PHILIPPINES

The Philippines wants APEC to serve as a talking shop that can help stave off any Nafta protectionism directed toward Asia. It does not want APEC to develop into any kind of trade arrangement that could threaten Asean's fledgling free-trade area.

The government sees the meeting as chance for Asean as a group to exchange views with the United States and other countries, but expects no significant initiatives.

It is more concerned about garnering $3 billion in investment commitments during President Fidel Ramos's 15-day trip to the United States, to be capped by a meeting with President Clinton in Washington, D.C.

SINGAPORE

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong is alone among fellow Asean leaders in supporting the U.S. idea of a free-trade Asia-Pacific Economic Community by the 21st century. In deference to his worried fellow Asean leaders, however, he advocates implementation at a pace acceptable to Asean members.

SOUTH KOREA

For South Koreans, the APEC ministerial meeting is another opportunity to exercise their new international influence in Asian trade matters.

The APEC meeting will mark the international debut of South Korean President Kim Young Sam, former opposition leader who was elected president as a government candidate last December.

Generally, said Chang Ki Ho, economic counselor at the South Korean Embassy in Washington, South Korea has cooperated with the United States on Apec matters and that should continue.

After the APEC leaders' retreat, Mr. Kim will continue to Washington, D.C., for a formal summit with President Clinton.

South Korea has announced no public position on the recommendation by a U.S.-led APEC sub-group that APEC should move toward creating an Asia-Pacific Economic Community on a par with the European Community.

TAIWAN

Taiwan will try to enhance its status as an independent political and economic entity.

A secret meeting was held at the Ministry of Economic Affairs Nov. 4 to discuss strategy for the ministerial and trade liberalization meetings, including a response to the U.S. proposal for a "genuine Asia-Pacific Economic Community."

A participant at the meeting said no consensus was reached on a response to the U.S. proposal. No formal position was announced on APEC trade liberalization, but John C.C. Deng, deputy director of the Board of Foreign Trade's third department for trade policy, has reiterated that "trade liberalization is an established policy of our government and we expect the pace of liberalization will pick up in the future."

Taiwan will avoid confrontation if China challenges its status as a full APEC member.

THAILAND

Thailand prefers APEC to stay away from trade arrangements, remaining a forum for consultation on issues like technology transfer, harmonizing customs methods, and human resources development.

Thailand is expected to stand by decisions reached at the Asean economic ministers' meeting early October, which expressed concern that Australia and the United States alone are setting the APEC agenda.

Thai officials see the formation of the APEC secretariat in Singapore last year as a major step toward restructuring APEC into a formal body.

UNITED STATES

Since taking office in January, President Clinton and members of his cabinet have spoken pointedly about the need for the United States to expand its ties with Asia.

At Mr. Clinton's invitation, the heads of state of most APEC member countries will gather for a special retreat following the regular meeting of ministers, billed as the "APEC summit."

Among the more controversial initiatives that the United States will be supporting is a recommendation by the so-called Eminent Persons Group to develop APEC into a kind of Asian economic community.

Not part of the APEC agenda, but still likely to be in the spotlight, will be the increasingly tense U.S.-China relationship. Controversial bilateral issues include the renewal of China's MFN trade status and China's textile trade agreement.