A Reflection on PECC¡¯s Twenty-Five Years: A Story with an Evolving Future

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  A commemoratives speech to be delivered
at the 16
th General Meeting of PECC
held in Seoul on Sept.5-7
at the Welcoming Dinner on Sept.5, 2005

 

 

Chairman Kim, Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a singular honor for me to be invited to this 16th General Meeting of PECC to address such a distinguished audience this evening on PECC¡¯s 25th anniversary.  I have been asked to reflect on my PECC experiences in the earlier years. 

I joined PECC in 1982 as a member of the Standing Committee on behalf of Korea right after it was decided that the PECC would be formally launched.  I then began to work with other eminent colleagues such as Dr. Saburo Okita, Sir John Crawford, Dr. Thanat Khoman, Mr. Eric Trigg, and Mr. Brian Talboys, to name just a few, to establish PECC as a formal  institution dedicated to the promotion of economic cooperation in Asia-Pacific region.

During these years, we worked closely with younger colleagues with brilliant minds, inexhaustible energy, and dedication to the cause of  PECC, who would undertake the substantive work of PECC through the task forces. I am so pleased to see many of them again here tonight. 

One of those colleagues was Dr. Kim Kihwan, the current International Chair of PECC. In 1993, I handed over my PECC portfolio to Dr. Kim and left him to advance the process of nurturing a sense of community in the Pacific. 

In retrospect, we were all quite excited about working together like college freshmen organizing a fraternity. We met at various cities around the Pacific. And we really felt at home wherever we went.

It was a great honor and pleasure as well as big fun for me to be part of this group.

I will not try to recall PECC¡¯s specific experiences in the 1980s for you, especially since you will now all have the commemorative book with you. I understand that this book recalls various aspects of PECC¡¯s 25 years¡¯ history in detail. And I believe that, from the book, we will see what PECC achieved through the first decade of its work.  In this regard, I want to call your attention to two highly significant contributions made by PECC by the turn of the 1980s.

One was to catalyze the launching of APEC in 1989 that was further followed by the launching of the Economic Leaders¡¯ Meeting process in 1993. Let me remind you that, right after the first APEC Ministerial Meeting was held, Secretary Garreth Evans, its Australian Chairman, wrote to the Chairman of the PECC Standing Committee, acknowledging that APEC could not have been born without the preceding decade of effort by PECC.

In a nutshell, PECC had been sponsoring ¡®tripartite¡¯ dialogue activities on the need and feasibility of Pacific economic cooperation. The dialogue involved academic experts, businessmen and governmental officials, in studies and discussion of regional economic problems.  Through this process, PECC had nurtured a new regional consciousness as well as the confidence that there was a wide scope for regional cooperation which would benefit all Pacific economies.

In this way, PECC had created the political will among the regional governments to launch APEC. I think that it was an achievement for which PECC may congratulate itself today on its 25th anniversary.   

Another highly significant achievement during the 1980s was to build a trans-Pacific consensus about the overriding interest in a rules-based multilateral trading system.  That led to an embrace of open regionalism.  This has served thus far as the guiding spirit not only of PECC but also of the APEC process. Especially, the general understanding of APEC¡¯s Bogor Goals is based on this principle. 

If I remember correctly, the expression, ¡°open regionalism¡±, began to be formally used by PECC at the Ninth PECC held in San Francisco in September 1992.  In fact, the theme of that conference was ¡°Open Regionalism: A Pacific Model for Global Economic Cooperation¡±. 

However, the goal of ¡°freer trade in the GATT framework¡± was most effectively advocated on the basis of open regionalism by the report of the first trade task force which was released in 1983. This principle has never been abandoned by PECC since then, providing a working guide line to APEC who brought about the successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations.

I am not quite well aware of what PECC has been doing since the early 1990s when I passed the chairmanship of KOPEC to Dr. Kim.  My understanding, though, is that PECC has tried to do its best to be the mentor of APEC, with focus on trade policy issues.  I also understand that, as a result, PECC has made quite a few important contributions to APEC along this line.

But I also understand that there have been a few fundamental changes in the environment for PECC over the years. And I have been often curious about how the PECC would respond to these changes or challenges.

The first challenge facing PECC is related to the creation of APEC which it helped come into being in the early days. The two organizations share the same purpose and are engaged in the same kind of work. So far PECC has been playing a complementary or supporting role for APEC, but such role seems to be on the wane. Moreover PECC is confronted with other competitive institutions such as APEC Study Center and ABAC. These  parties which make up PECC¡¯s tripartite structure all now have their own work programs of very similar purposes. All the parties compete with one another for finance resources while total amount of resources available are limited. How should PECC adjust to this new reality ?

The second challenges comes from the recent proliferation of bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) which seem to contradict PECC¡¯s open regionalism. Now, the business community in the region is debating whether to promote a region-wide FTA under the name of the Free Trade Agreement of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). Should we oppose this proposal on the basis of open regionalism?  Or should we abandon this principle altogether and embrace the FTAAP, advanced by some, but rejected by PECC for many times?

What is the role of open regionalism in this second-best world in which regional economies are pursuing FTAs bilaterally?

The third challenge to PECC is the weakening of what is now often called the trans-Pacific linkage. The rise of China as a new economic power is causing a rather rapid reconfiguration of economic and political relations among the Pacific economies, especially, between the United States and the East Asian economies. 

In recent years, there has been the deepening of economic relations within East Asia around China as the centripetal pole.  This has been concomitant with the rise of East Asian regionalism as well illustrated in the so-called ASEAN Plus 3. The economic relationship between counties across the pacific are currently undergoing significant changes which seems to be calling PECC to figure out a new vista for the economic cooperation among countries the Asia-Pacific regions. It seems that it is becoming increasingly difficult for PECC to achieve its goal of promoting a Pacific Community.  

I have listed three major challenges facing PECC for consideration by its leaders and participants. Obviously there are no easy answers to these problems. But I trust that the challenges PECC is facing are at the same time valuable opportunities for renewals and new direction of development.

I trust that you will be able to find the most appropriate new vista of economic cooperation in the changing conditions in the Asia Pacific and redefine the mission of the PECC in response to the need for greater economic integration in the region in the context of globalization.

I am much pleased to hear that, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, PECC has already initiated such effort.

I would like to congratulate PECC for both its anniversary and the most timely decision.

And I would like to wish PECC every success in its endeavor.

Thank you very much for your attention.