Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Thursday, November 15, 2018, 6:35 p.m. Port Moresby, Independent State of Papua New Guinea
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Thank you for coming to today’s press conference. The current international economic situation makes this APEC Ministerial Meeting more significant than ever. This meeting brings together Ministers from key economies in the Asia-Pacific region. And it offers a crucial opportunity for us to discuss how to achieve the common goal of the liberalization of international trade and investment.
In the meeting, I emphasized that fostering a prosperous Asia-Pacific region—which is supported by a solid system of liberalized trade and investment, and by significantly enhanced connectivity—is at the very core of the free and open Indo-Pacific vision that Japan promotes. Japan is determined to set a new high-global standard for trade and investment, and to expand the free trade regime as well.
It is imperative for us to continue to liberalize trade and investment in the region, and APEC should be the central vehicle to push forward this movement. These thoughts were basically shared by the Ministers today. I see this as a very positive outcome of the Ministerial Meeting.
I provided an update on progress being made with regards to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), both of which are the pathways for the ultimate Free-Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). In particular, TPP11 has the potential to be the cornerstone for establishing standard rules on trade and investment that meet the needs of the 21st century. The recently confirmed entry into force of TPP11 by the end of this year is another important achievement for maintaining and reinforcing the free trade system.
Regarding RCEP, we are now putting every effort into the early conclusion of a comprehensive, balanced and high-quality agreement.
Our efforts toward liberalization of trade and investment are not limited to this region. Scale and scope of the Japan-EU EPA is worthy of special mention in world history. We are now working around the clock toward prompt ratification of the agreement.
In addition to these large scale economic partnership agreements, Japan is also conducting other FTA negotiations, including with smaller economies like Faroe islands.
During the Ministerial Meeting, we also discussed issues such as women’s economic participation and disaster risk reduction in the context of achieving inclusive growth. In this connection, I emphasized the importance of utilizing innovative sources of financing to secure the funds required to tackle global issues.
There are nearly 70 million refugees and internally displaced persons waiting for assistance. This is the highest level of such displacement since the end of World War II. Also, there are predictions that the number of violent hurricanes and typhoons will continue to increase towards the end of the 21st century as a result of the climate change. The need to mobilize funding to overcome these challenges to achieve inclusive growth is more urgent than ever.
In order to achieve the SDGs by 2030, the international community needs to seriously consider how to fill the current funding gap, which is now on to 2.5 trillion dollars per year. We cannot anticipate that this gap will be filled by official development assistance of governments (ODA) and public-private-partnerships (PPP) alone.
One of the viable long-term solutions is international solidarity tax, which collects a thinly spread tax from transnational activities that benefit from the globalization of the economy. Revenue raised is then used to support humanitarian aid such as to assist refugees and IDPs, and help those who are suffered from major natural disasters.
Japan is willing to contribute to international debate on different options for addressing global issues, and we just had such a discussion among the APEC ministers, and my proposal on this International Solidarity Tax received positive feedbacks from the ministers.
So there were a number of very positive outcomes from this meeting, and I would like to conclude my remarks by expressing my thanks to all my ministerial counterparts for their contributions to this very valuable meetings.
Bloomberg News: I have a question regarding North Korea. Has Japan already held meetings with North Korea? Is there any information you can share with us regarding a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un?
Minister Kono: We have held various contacts with North Korean officials. I myself held talks with the Foreign Minister of North Korea on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York. In addition, we maintain contact through the embassy channel in Beijing. While nothing has been decided with regard to a summit meeting between Prime Minister Abe and Chairman Kim, such a meeting is very much a possibility. If North Korea takes proactive steps to resolve the existing outstanding issues, we will be happy to make efforts towards the normalization of Japan-North Korea relations.
Xinhua News Agency: I would like to ask about inclusive growth and the economy. You referred to innovative financing a short while ago. Does Japan intend to cooperate with China’s capacity building projects that will increase regional connectivity?
Minister Kono: Japan will gladly cooperate with China if the infrastructure projects implemented by China meet international standards, such as openness, transparency, economic efficiency in view of lifecycle costs, as well as the fiscal soundness of recipient countries. With regard to inclusiveness, we aim to achieve the SDGs, and we intend to do everything we can to this end. Meanwhile, the international community must give serious consideration to the ways for filling the vast financing gap that currently exists.
U.K. Press: I have heard that the U.S. delegation to APEC does not include Secretary of State Pompeo and U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer. Furthermore, President Trump does not intend to visit Papua New Guinea. Do you perceive that the United States is losing interest in APEC and this region?
Minister Kono: Vice President Pence visited Japan at the beginning of this week, and we held meaningful discussions on that occasion. In addition, the Vice President visited Singapore (ASEAN) as the U.S. delegate and intends to attend the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting. Accordingly, I expect that the members attending the APEC meeting will fully feel the U.S. presence.
U.K. Press: What kind of discussions took place today regarding WTO reform?
Minister Kono: The ministers who attended today’s meeting shared the view that the WTO is important and should play a central role in the international trade system. Meanwhile, the WTO must be modernized and strengthened by establishing rules on such aspects as e-commerce and the digital economy. The ministers generally shared the view that the WTO should play a central role in the rule-making.
Shanghai Daily: Tomorrow, President Xi Jinping is scheduled to have dinner with the leaders of island countries and deliver a speech during the dinner. Do you have any comments in this regard? Could you also tell us whether Japan and China will work together towards the economic development of third countries?
Minister Kono: Japan welcomes the intention that Japan and China will cooperate to provide supports for third-country economies, including Pacific Island countries. As I have already stated, if China’s projects meet international standards, we will be happy to work with China. As the second and third largest economic powers of the world, we need to work together to solve international issues, and such cooperation will offer a great opportunity for doing this. I accompanied Prime Minister Abe’s recent visit to Beijing. The leaders of the two countries held very meaningful discussions. There are many opportunities for the two countries to work together, and I am looking forward to such opportunities.
BBC: You stated in your remarks about climate change that the international community must cooperate on this matter. Papua New Guinea is hosting the APEC meetings. Do you consider that the international community can cooperate on filling this (financing) gap?
Minister Kono: If we are to make serious efforts to achieve the SDGs, it is necessary to solve the financing gap issue. I proposed the international solidarity tax. For example, a system would be developed in which a low tax rate would be imposed on currency trading, and the tax revenues would directly reach international organizations. International organizations will then utilize the funds for refugees and those affected by natural disasters. This is just one proposal, and there are probably many other proposals. The important point is to recognize the financing gap. Japan has a budget deficit, and many other donors also have financing constraints. For this reason, it is extremely difficult to fill the financing gap by government contributions. We need to be creative to find solutions to the issues. My proposal is just one of many, and I welcome that the discussion delves further going forward. I think all countries must be part of this discussion.
NBC TV: What outcomes do you hope would be achieved at this APEC meeting?
Minister Kono: This meeting is a fantastic forum for discussing economic issues with regional leaders. It is clear that the free trade system is facing challenges currently. Similar to today’s Ministerial Meeting, I expect that discussion on this issue will continue at the Economic Leaders’ Meeting and that a broad consensus would be reached regarding the liberalization of trade as well as the investment system needed in this region. Such consensus will also give confidence to people outside of the region. I therefore hope that leaders will engage in constructive discussion. This was my first visit to Papua New Guinea, and I would like to thank the people of Papua New Guinea for their warm welcome.