BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (AP) â€” President Clinton sought to nudge economic globalization forward Wednesday by calling for new world trade negotiations by 2001 â€” a deadline developing nations are resisting.
The last effort to launch a new round of trade talks collapsed at the disastrous World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle amid discord between rich and poor while riots raged outside.
``The most important thing we can do is to launch a new trade round at the WTO. It ought to happen as early as possible â€” next year,'' Clinton told business leaders meeting alongside the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, an annual summit of Pacific Rim nations.
The leaders of APEC's 21 economies close their two-day summit Thursday â€” the last one for Clinton, who is credited with establishing the annual sessions intended to push for more trade on both sides of the Pacific Rim.
Clinton urged APEC leaders to carry on without him, but drew laughter by referring to the still-unresolved U.S. presidential race between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
``I just don't know who will be here next year,'' Clinton said.
If the next U.S. president adopts some of Clinton's stances toward trade, insisting on environmental protection and workers' rights in any new WTO talks, the United States could find itself in a drawn-out fight with poor countries who say they're tired of being pushed around by the rich traders.
Developing nations complain they don't want to harm their two main economic advantages, exploitation of natural resources and cheap labor.
They made their point at the APEC summit, when Malaysia led other poorer countries in refusing to let economic ministers agree on a call to start new WTO talks by 2001, insisting instead that all nations first come up with an agenda that takes into account the concerns of poor countries.
Thailand's Trade Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi, who will become the leader of the WTO in 2002, spoke on behalf of the developing nations, saying there's no point in setting a deadline that might be missed. That would heap more embarrassment on the WTO after Seattle.
With the WTO issue appearing nowhere near resolution, trade officials have noted more nations are cutting bilateral trade deals â€” a trend that could either sidetrack the move toward new WTO discussions or facilitate them, depending which experts are talking.
Singapore, a leader among the bilateral traders, announced Wednesday it wants a fair trade package with Australia within the next year. Singapore is also either negotiating or hoping to enter into talks with Japan, Canada, Chile, Mexico and New Zealand â€” among others.
Mexican negotiators have been busy at the forum trying to reach a trade pact with China, which would help China get into the WTO, and the United States recently signed a trade deal with Vietnam.
APEC members are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.
Clinton Urges Economic Globalization
AP Coverage of Indonesia
APEC Secretariat Web Site