Don't group Asia-Pacific like EU: Rudd

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
Asia-Pacific countries need a wider and more inclusive organisation to address economic, trade and security issues facing the region but not a structure like the European Union, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says.

Foreign delegates and former leaders of 21 Asia-Pacific countries have gathered in Sydney for two days to attend the Asia-Pacific Community Conference.

The event is the culmination of 18 months of regional discussions about developing a new forum for Asia-Pacific countries including China, Japan, the US and Australia.

Mr Rudd was the first to propose the idea and on Friday detailed what challenges the region faces in the 21st century.

"The Asia-Pacific region is still without a regional institution with wide membership and a wide mandate to deal with the breadth and depth of political security, economic and environmental challenges that we will face in the 21st century," he told the delegation.

He highlighted the fact that in 1990 there were only four free trade agreements (FTAs) in the region and that by 2009, 32 were operating within the region and an additional 36 between countries in the region and other nations around the world.

"It becomes almost a spaghetti bowl of trying to understand the precise nature of the linkages between one economy and the other through this myriad of FTAs," he said.

Mr Rudd said the two-day event would not result in a silver bullet solution but would hopefully advance discussion and debate and result in some concrete ideas.

He also said the existing regional forums such as ASEAN, APEC, the East Asia Summit and the Asian Regional Forum could be building blocks for a new Asia-Pacific structure.

"It is clear to me that unlike the EU, we do not need a supra-national decision-making structure," Mr Rudd said.

© 2009 AAP