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Speeches

Speech by Director-General of Trade at the APEC , Seminar on the ISO Global Toy Safety Standard today (Monday, March 20, 2000)

Following is the opening remarks by the Director-General of Trade, Mr Joshua LAW, at the APEC Seminar on the ISO Global Toy Safety Standard today (March 20)(English only):

Mr Miller, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be invited to address the opening of the "APEC Seminar on ISO Global Toy Safety Standard".

Some of you may wonder what the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC in short, has to do with toy safety standards. As the Senior Official representing Hong Kong, China at APEC, I would like to say a few words on APEC and why it matters to businessmen, including toy manufacturers and traders.

APEC is an inter-governmental forum comprising 21 economies in the Asia Pacific region, one of which is Hong Kong. Altogether, APEC members are responsible for over 40% of world trade. APEC is very important to Hong Kong: it enables us to keep in close touch with our counterparts, so that we can better feel the economic pulse of the region. After all, trade with fellow APEC members account for over 80% of our total trade. APEC aims to contribute to the economic development of the region through enhancing the flow of trade and investment. In other words, trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation is the bread and butter of APEC.

The benefits of trade and investment liberalisation need no elaboration. But as border barriers diminish, there is a growing recognition that liberalisation and facilitation must go together. Facilitation requires the purposeful coordination of different hardware and software of an economy in order that manufacturing, trading, financing and other related activities may proceed smoothly, cost effectively and efficiently. The coordination, or the lack of it, very often highlights the constraints faced by an economy in seeking to develop further. This brings into the fore another important facet of APEC's work - economic and technical cooperation, or Ecotech in short. APEC has therefore, quite rightly, adopts a three-pronged approach in seeking to create a better business environment in the region -liberalisation, facilitation and Ecotech.

What is facilitation? There is no authoritative definition and the concept is best understood, I think, through examples. Trade facilitation is, to me, any measure which enables a more expeditious flow of goods and services across borders. They can include, for example, alignment of standards, simplification of customs procedures, mutual recognition arrangements, greater mobility of business people, etc. Those in the business world, I am sure, would agree with me that, though these issues seldom make newspaper headlines, they are as important as reduction in tariffs and relaxation in the cap on foreign ownership.

Let me turn briefly to Ecotech. It would be futile to promote liberalisation and facilitation measures if the mechanism through which they are delivered are antiquated. In other words, Ecotech aims to improve the environment within which the anticipated benefits of liberalisation and facilitation are realised. Concrete Ecotech work very often takes the form of training courses and information sessions. The Seminar that we have today is a notable example of Ecotech work which seeks to enhance the knowledge and expertise required to implement a facilitation initiative; and that initiative is IS 8124, the newly adopted ISO toy safety standard.

I understand that over the next few days, industry experts and regulatory officials will provide technical presentations, product safety testing demonstrations, and information on compliance with the new ISO standard.

Without a common international reference, the existence of different toy safety standards can pose a market entry barrier and thus increase business costs. Since APEC members alone produce over 80% of the world toys and at the same time import nearly 70% of the world's toys, one can easily imagine the tremendous benefits it will bring if APEC economies all adopt a common set of standards.

Adopting a common set of safety standards help reduce the costs of compliance through alignment of product design, production techniques and product testing. It can also help facilitate testing laboratories and customs officials in ascertaining and enforcing toy safety standards. Reduction of overall transaction costs and time will benefit not only businessmen, it will also benefit consumers through lower price and assurance of safe toys for our children.

It is therefore not at all surprising that the organization of this Seminar, when proposed in APEC, was greeted with so much enthusiasm.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the Toys Manufacturers of America, Inc., China Toy Association, Hong Kong Toys Council and Japan Toy Association for their efforts in organising this event; and of course, for having chosen Hong Kong as the venue of this Seminar.

May I wish you a successful and fruitful Seminar in the next few days. Thank you.