- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

Since 1998, Russia has been a full-fledged member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). In the run-up to the APEC summit in Vietnam, I would like to share my views about the road traveled by this multilateral association and, naturally, about the prospects for our cooperation.

In the 17 years since the creation of the forum, it has grown into one of the most representative and established organizations to promote integration in Asia and the Pacific. Today, APEC member nations comprise the world’s most dynamically developing economic zone, and our experts predict that the forum’s leading positions will become even stronger.

As a Eurasian power, Russia’s plans for social and economic development (particularly in Siberia and the Far East) are closely linked with active participation in regional integration. For us this is a natural and strategically necessary approach.

First of all, we appreciate APEC’s expertise in working out rules for trade, economic and investment cooperation. Needless to say, cooperation in this sphere is largely guided by World Trade Organization criteria. Russia has not yet joined the WTO, but we closely watch its activities and take part in them whenever possible, specifically by joining in efforts to reduce transaction costs and excessive state regulation of the economy, and to improve national economic legislation.

We understand APEC’s goals of consolidating the fundamentals of the market economy and invigorating public-private partnership with a view to encouraging medium-sized and small businesses and promoting social development. We are very interested in the formation and proper functioning of various free trade zones within APEC. We are thoroughly studying APEC countries as models for improving our domestic investment environment, as well as their experience in fighting corruption. They are of practical importance for our reforms, which are aimed at building up and diversifying Russia’s foreign economic contacts.

We fully share the economic and social aspirations of APEC’s members. In this respect, we value the forum’s assessment of Russia’s individual action plan in APEC.

At the upcoming summit in Hanoi, we are going to discuss a plan of action to implement the already approved “roadmap” for achieving the Bogor goals. We have high expectations for this project, and we hope that it will become a major step towards building a system of free and open trade and investment in the region.

At the same time, it is obvious that the road to achieving these goals is not as easy as it might have seemed during the adoption of the Bogor Declaration and the Osaka Action Plan. We are well aware of changes in the world’s political and economic situation and of new challenges. The latter, by threatening international security and stability, hinder normal economic development both worldwide and in individual regions. The APEC forum and its members should take into account these ongoing changes. I believe it is necessary to avoid a situation in which the rigid formulas set for the Bogor Declaration contradict the logic of global development and the real potentialities of the APEC economies.

APEC was formed primarily as an economy-focused multilateral mechanism, but real life is continuously placing issues of international and regional politics on its agenda.

One of its key goals is countering international terrorism. The APEC members and other countries of Asia and the Pacific are at different levels of development. It is no secret that terrorists are actively seeking a “temporary shelter” in some of the less prosperous regions. Therefore, along with measures to eliminate hotbeds of terrorism, it is essential to completely eradicate the social roots of terrorism — poverty, hunger and chronic unemployment. In general, it is important to bridge the gap in the social and economic development of nations.

I am convinced that APEC will provide us with quite a few opportunities to achieve this goal. We must help the poorest countries in their efforts to encourage public-private partnership, investment and other economic activities. To this end, APEC should primarily use its own funds, as well as money provided by international organizations and financial institutions for specific projects.

The humanitarian and ideological aspects of the struggle against terrorism are no less important. APEC’s initiative to promote dialogue between cultures and religions is especially significant in this respect. Asia and the Pacific is a region of unique cultural and ethnic diversity, and it should develop immunity to the ideology of confrontation between civilizations, as well as to nationalism and extremism. I am certain that APEC’s spirit of trust, tolerance and partnership will help fulfill this task. I believe it is highly symbolic that Indonesia and Russia, with their unique multi-ethnic populations professing different religions, have played a major role in drafting this initiative.

It is necessary to continue efforts to eliminate funding for terrorism. APEC has been clear enough in setting this goal, which is further evidence of its ability to adapt itself to the realities of today. I would like to emphasize Russia’s preparedness to take an active part in working with its partners to reach this goal.

We are also open to cooperation with APEC in the fight against organized crime, drug trafficking and arms smuggling. I am sure that our countries’ law-enforcement bodies can do more than simply exchange relevant information. We should plan and implement coordinated actions against criminals.

It is extremely important to ensure the security of transportation and information. This is one of the major conditions for trade and telecommunications, which are vital for the vast Asia-Pacific region. Governments and the business community are equally interested in ensuring their normal functioning and dependable protection against criminals.

Russia recently made a specific contribution to cooperation in this sphere by putting forward an initiative in the framework of APEC’s counterterrorism task force. This proposal calls for creating a system to protect key energy facilities that would allow for a prompt response to emerging threats.

International energy security plays a key role in economic development. We acknowledge that this is an urgent matter for many APEC members due to rising global oil prices.

As a major supplier of energy to world markets, Russia is open to cooperation in this sphere. We are convinced that the terms should be beneficial for all partners. They should rest on the mutual responsibility of energy producers and consumers, a fair distribution of risks between them and an exchange of assets in the energy sector. I’d like to mention that the plan of action approved at the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in St. Petersburg provides for measures to enhance the transparency, predictability, and stability of energy markets, and to improve the investment climate as a whole. Along with these measures, it is important to develop energy-saving technologies, and to diversify types of energy sources and their transportation routes. It is also necessary to take practical steps to ensure the safety of the energy infrastructure, help energy-starved countries and tackle environmental problems.

All these issues are particularly important now that APEC is increasingly interested in having a new, more reliable energy system. Russia is prepared to take an active part in implementing this large-scale initiative. Moreover, we are going to propose and implement a number of specific infrastructure projects, specifically, the construction of oil and gas pipelines to supply Asia and the Pacific with hydrocarbons from eastern Russia. I believe that APEC has the capability to guarantee continuous delivery of energy to the region.

In addition, cooperation in APEC opens up new possibilities in the fight against infectious diseases. It is in our common interest to establish an effective system for exchanging information and making coordinated decisions in order to combat epidemics and pandemics. We fully support the development of an APEC partnership to create an early-warning system for emergencies in the region and jointly deal with their aftermath.

We are extremely interested in APEC’s interaction experience in innovation, especially in developing nanotechnologies and exchanging information in such high-tech areas as IT and biotechnologies. Russia is committed to invigorating cooperation in these and other spheres, which will determine scientific and technical progress in the near future. It goes without saying that the APEC nations should pay greater attention to the development of cooperation in education.

In conclusion, I’d like to emphasize that we are optimistic about APEC’s future. We are capable of meeting new challenges and steadily moving towards our common development goals. The main topic of the forthcoming summit in Vietnam — “building a dynamic community for sustainable development and prosperity” — clearly shows the direction of this movement.

Russia, having made the important decision to work with APEC, intends to take a vigorous part in addressing future challenges together with other members.

I am convinced that APEC, which has already achieved impressive results, is capable of accomplishing much more for the benefit of our nations and for the promotion of peace, stability and progress in our shared region.

Vladimir Putin is president of Russia.

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