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The Williamsburg Conference 1998

The 1998 Williamsburg Conference Statement: Responding to Asia's Economic Crisis, Queenstown, New Zealand, March 20-23, 1998.

Over the past year, the Asia-Pacific region has been buffeted by the most serious economic crisis since World War II. Largely unanticipated, its scope was grossly underestimated. The crisis is having profound effects on the region and the rest of the world.

To better understand this crisis and its consequences, the Asia Society in partnership with the Asia 2000 Foundation of New Zealand brought together leaders in government, business, academia and journalism from 18 countries and economies on both sides of the Pacific for the twenty-sixth Williamsburg Conference. Held in Queenstown, New Zealand on 20-23 March, the conference was convened by Tommy Koh of Singapore, Yoshio Okawara of Japan, and Nicholas Platt of the United States. This is the first time in its history that the Williamsburg Conference has been convened in New Zealand.

Although the participants were especially concerned about the current economic crisis and avoiding another one, they examined three other related issues: political transitions in the region: the role played by the major powers - namely, China, Japan, and the United States; and the relationship of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands with Asia.

Economic Crisis
The participants warned that the consequences of the crisis have yet to be fully felt. There was broad consensus about the reforms required at the national level, including strengthened banking systems, effective prudential supervision and regulatory capacity, and improved transparency and accountability in business and government. Participants endorsed the need for continuing trade and investment liberalization through the APEC and WTO processes.

There was vigorous debate about the appropriate international responses to the crisis. It was the unanimous view that the IMF has a central and irreplaceable role in restoring international and domestic confidence in the affected economies. There was agreement that the IMF measures should be tailored to the particular circumstances of each country. In addition, bilateral, regional and international assistance will be required to finance trade. Humanitarian aid may be required to relieve social distress in some countries.

Discussing the realities and risks of the new global capital market, the participants agreed on the need for sound macroeconomic and fiscal policies (particularly avoiding borrowing short term to finance long-term projects), and the maintenance of transparent and accountable financial systems. Greater regional financial cooperation, such as early warning systems, could also play a role.