The leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum agreed on the need for a consistent regulatory environment for conducting electronic commerce throughout the 18 nation organisation.
"We agree that electronic commerce is one of the most important technological breakthroughs of this decade." APEC leaders said in a joint declaration called "Connecting the APEC Community" passed at the conclusion of a two-day meeting of APEC leaders in Vancouver, British Columbia, yesterday.
As a result the APEC leaders have directed the appropriate APEC ministers to undertake a work program on electronic commerce in the region, that takes relevant activities of other international organisations into account.
The APEC heads of state also asked that a full report be prepared on the issues by the next APEC summit in November 1998, to be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The report and the e-commerce initiative "should recognise the leading role of the business sector and promote a predictable and consistent legal and regulatory environment that enables all APEC economies to reap the benefits of electronic commerce," the declaration reads.
APEC was formed in 1989 in response to the growing interdependence of the regions economies. The forum has developed into a vehicle for promoting trade and practical cooperation. APEC's 18 member economies had a combined gross national product of over US$22 trillion in 1996, accounting for approximately 52% of total world output and 40 percent of global trade. Members include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and the U.S.
The declaration at the end of the APEC forum in Canada, follows the Asia Pacific IT Summit held here last week, during which IT business leaders and government officials repeatedly stressed the need for regional rules and laws governing commerce in cyberspace.
Government officials from Panama, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, the U.S., Japan and other nations represented at the two day IT summit, said the private sector should lead investments into high-tech areas and e-commerce.
In addition, governments said a consistent regulatory environment governing Internet transaction is necessary to reap the full potentials of high-tech trade.
"The 21st century will be the age of the networked economy,'' said Katsuhiro Nakagawa, vice minister of international affairs at Japan's Ministry of Trade and Industry last Thursday. "The private sector should take the lead, and not be hampered by over regulation.''
U.S. President Bill Clinton, in a video address to the several hundred summit delegates, also called on the leaders of the Asia-Pacific regions to expand last year's World Trade Organization agreement, which covered the elimination of tariffs on information technology, to include e-commerce transactions.
Clinton said e-commerce must be promoted on a global basis so businesses receive consistent treatment on the Internet, no matter where in the world they operate.
"I have asked Charlene Barshevsky, our trade representative, to work to secure a tariff-free environment in cyberspace by next July," Clinton said.
At the same meeting CEO's from high-profile Silicon Valley companies such as Cisco, Intel and Netscape stressed that developing e-commerce know-how is key to staying competitive.
"The Internet is going to change everything, and at a pace we've never seen before," said John Chambers, president and CEO of Cisco in San Jose, California, last Friday.
While Companies who don't know how to use high-tech will be left behind, companies that do know how to use it, stand to get rich Chambers said. He used his own company to illustrate the economic benefits the Internet can provide, saying Cisco generated about 40 percent of total sales, or $3.2 billion electronically.
"We recently presented a report to our board of directors showing that we can triple the size of the company without increasing the number of manufacturing employees," Chambers said.
But while Asia-Pacific economies are fueled to a large degree by high-tech exports, the region's domestic investments into information technology are inadequate, Andy Grove, chairman and CEO of Intel, told the attendees of the Asia-Pacific IT Summit last week.
"Investments in information technology are a competitive necessity," Grove said. "No matter what issue we face today, the significant answer is in the information technology."
Grove stressed that high technology -- particularly PCs linked to the Internet -- is key to solving many of the world's and the Asia Pacific region's economic problems, the major subject of the Vancouver APEC leaders meeting.
Given that there are 500 million illiterate people living in Asia, PCs can provide countries in the Asia-Pacific region with affordable and adaptable education systems, Grove said.
Similarly, PC-based telemedicine systems -- which allow for the diagnosis of medical conditions from remote areas using a laptop and Internet links -- can broaden the reach of healthcare systems into remote areas. Healthier people, in turn, will be more productive and economies more prosperous, Grove said.
Moreover, Internet-based electronic commerce systems will have a large impact on national economies, Grove said.
"Internet is the great equaliser of commerce," Grove said. Broadly deployed, e-commerce will turn the economy of a country into a nation of efficient sellers and knowledgeable buyers, Grove said.
However, to be successful activities on the Internet must be adapted to the tastes and needs of each Asian Pacific country said Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Australia's News Corp. who spoke at the Asia Pacific IT Summit on Friday.
Murdoch said satellite broadcast systems are the most appropriate means for delivering news, entertainment and information to the diverse and vast Asia Pacific region.
"Many Asia Pacific countries "are leap-frogging the analog era and going straight to digital,'' Murdoch said. "Once the system is built, the cost of adding another customer is negligible.''
But an outdated regulatory environment that is out of step with advances in technology is hampering development of digital systems, Murdoch said. "The technical barriers are already out of the way to take advantage of the digital age; regulators must change too,'' he said.
In addition, Murdoch said that to be successful any digital initiative in Asia -- be it a Web site or a satellite TV sports channel -- must be carefully adapted to each culture in the region.
"You have to consider the social and moral values of each country and region," he said.
More information on APEC can be found at http://www.apec97.gc.ca/home.html/.