Scepticism grows as trade barriers fall

Scepticism grows as trade barriers fall
In an attempt to prevent such walls being erected, the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum has established a voluntary Privacy Framework and Cross Border Privacy Rules to guide governments drafting privacy laws.

The last time leaders from Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) economies met in Indonesia was in 1994.

Dr Bayu Krisnamurthi was an agricultural economics lecturer at a university in Bogor, just across from the presidential palace where leaders including Mr Bill Clinton and Mr Suharto were meeting.

At the time, the idea of a free trade area spanning the Pacific seemed far-fetched, and Dr Bayu - now deputy trade minister - said he did not understand what they were talking about.

Almost two decades on, as Apec leaders converge in Indonesia once more for their annual summit this week and the next, trade barriers continue to fall across an increasingly connected region, but scepticism of Apec and its goals remains strong in some quarters.

Many Indonesians feel trade liberalisation has made life harder for them. Entrepreneurs struggle to compete against cheaper goods produced elsewhere, farmers say they find produce prices have fallen and low-skilled workers say their salaries have stagnated.

Activists and civil society groups see falling barriers as a means of further exploiting Indonesia's natural resources.

But officials say this is all the more reason to agree in the coming days on ways to ensure there are benefits to disadvantaged groups and less developed countries.

The effects, said Dr Bayu, now a champion of the 21-member regional grouping, will be incremental. "The decisions that come out will not be immediately felt, but they will come in the form of investments and structural reforms," he said.

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