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Home Articles & Speeches Call to Order - 32nd PBEC International General Meeting
Call to Order - 32nd PBEC International General Meeting
Hong Kong, China
Monday, May 17, 1999

Excellencies, PBEC members and chairmen, distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen, welcome to Hong Kong for the 32nd annual International General Meeting of the Pacific Basin Economic Council. I am honored to welcome you here to this great country, China, and to this incredible city, Hong Kong -- a place with a style and a pace unlike any other city in the world. With our meeting here, PBEC is truly closing out this millennium on a high note.

I cannot think of a better time to be in this city, the undisputed hub of business activity in Asia, at this particular time. Springtime seems to be blossoming not just in terms of the azaleas on the hillside and the irises in the wetland, but also in terms of the economic difficulties which have gripped much of this region for almost 2 years now. We are seeing signs all over that the worst might be behind us. In many economies in the region, growth levels are beginning to gradually rise, and exchange rates and stock markets have also begun to bounce back. It is our hope that PBEC's deliberations this week will help keep the positive momentum growing.

But there is a potential danger as we see signs of the crisis abating. The severity of the crisis served to focus the region's attention on undertaking much needed, but sometimes painful, reforms. We must ensure that recent progress does not become an excuse to backslide into bad old habits or stall or reverse the drive for reform.

Our internal working meetings this weekend were extremely productive, and we took a number of important policy actions which should help maintain and accelerate this progress. PBEC has strongly expressed our support for a new round of negotiations in the World Trade Organization, due to begin in the year 2000. In light of the recent trends and developments in the world economy, we consider these negotiations to be of particular importance. PBEC also expressed its support for WTO membership for PBEC members China, Chinese Taipei, and Russia.

Let me also add a personal observation on the WTO: it is crucial for the WTO to resolve its leadership issue, in order for the important work of that organization to move forward.

PBEC also called on APEC to conclude an agreement this year on Accelerated Tariff Liberalization. Maintaining and building positive momentum for increased trade liberalization is now more important than ever. PBEC also passed a statement calling on the WTO to finalize an agreement on transparency in government procurement. As PBEC members, you know that transparency is an issue of tremendous importance to PBEC, and an area where we have, and will continue to play, a leadership role.

Another area where PBEC has played an important role is in the development of an open food system in the Asia Pacific, and as a critical step forward in that process, PBEC this weekend approved recommendations on improving the efficiencies of the poultry value chain. Building on the good work we've already done on foreign direct investment, PBEC also committed to expand its collaborative efforts with important organizations like APEC, ABAC, and PECC in the area of investment.

Our policy work is not yet over, though. On Thursday, we will hold two important conferences on critical policy issues. "TRIPs and Beyond" will deal with intellectual property issues, including patents, copyrights, and new technologies, while "Regional Reform in Financial Services" will focus on pro-competitive regulatory reform in that area.

In addition to policy, this weekend's deliberations also included some very frank and heartfelt discussions on strengthening PBEC as we head into the new millennium. Under the leadership of our Chairman Dr. Helmut Sohmen, and with the strong support of his 2 vice chairman, Kosaku Inaba and SR Cho, I think you can expect to see a reinvigorated and re-energized PBEC. The best of PBEC is truly ahead of us.

As you look at your agendas, you'll see that the session topics at this IGM are timely and challenging, and the quality of the speakers is truly extraordinary. I urge all of you to take full advantage of the program, and take full advantage of the networking opportunities. Let's all renew old friendships and begin to build new ones, as we enjoy the impressive program our Hong Kong, China hosts have prepared for us.

Thank you very much, and once again welcome to Hong Kong. I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy not only this meeting, but also some of the sights, sounds, and tastes of Hong Kong. I wish you all a wonderful and productive meeting.