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UN Official Urges Closer Cooperation in Northeast Asia
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The secretary- general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has called for Northeast Asian countries to strengthen economic cooperation to foster prosperous regional integration.


It will not only help promote economic development within the countries, but also help them weather financial crises such as that experienced by Southeast Asia in the late 1990s, said Supachai Panitchpakdi, former director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO).


He was speaking at the Northeast Asia Economic Cooperation Forum, which opened on Saturday in Changchun, capital of northeastern Jilin Province.


Northeast Asia is performing brilliantly in trade, investment, and development, and potential is bright for continuing regional integration and poverty reduction. However, for such integration to be effective, there is a need to deepen the cooperation, said Supachai.


According to a UNCTAD report, the six countries of the region, China, Russia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Mongolia, account for 21 percent of global exports and 16 percent of imports. Interregional trade nearly doubled from 2000 to 2004 to US$320.7 billion, and over the past five years the trade has accounted for almost 40 percent of all Asian trade.


The region has plentiful natural resources such as gas, oil, minerals, water and timber, which has made it a magnet for investment, both global and regional.


Foreign direct investment soared from US$61 billion in 2000 to US$88 billion in 2004.


However, despite increasing numbers of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, Northeast Asia has lagged behind for 30 years.


In terms of formal regional economic links it suffers an "organization gap" compared with Europe, the Americas, Africa and even the Gulf countries, said the secretary-general.


The governments of the countries need to implement a sound investment policy regime, facilitate the cross-border movement of goods and people and improve the macroeconomic and business environment, said Supachai.


As an initial measure, the countries could focus on bringing best practice standards to existing special economic and development zones, he said.


In addition, Northeast Asian countries should address tariffs and remove trade barriers to achieve substantial export gains, according to Supachai, who added UNCTAD would like to provide assistance on negotiating trade and investment agreements, preparing for WTO accession and personnel training.


More than 500 officials and experts from the UN, the European Union and Northeast Asian countries are meeting at the three-day forum.


(China Daily September 4, 2006)


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