APEC ministers endorse plan to promote global trade

Wednesday, November 16th 2005, 9:31 am
By: News On 6

BUSAN, South Korea (AP) _ Pacific Rim Cabinet ministers whose nations conduct nearly half of the world's trade on Wednesday urged participants in global trade talks to overcome their differences at a key meeting in Hong Kong next month, warning that the credibility of the world's trade body was at stake.

President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in South Korea ahead of a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders who are expected to discuss ways to promote trade, as well as solutions to bird flu and terrorism.

In a joint statement, trade and foreign ministers of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum said a successful World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong was critical to the success of the so-called Doha round of trade talks, which they hoped can be completed by the end of 2006.

The statement acknowledged ``considerable divergences'' and said ``a clear roadmap'' must be established if the Doha round is to succeed. Breaking a deadlock in the WTO over subsidies in the heavily-protected farming sectors of Europe and some other developed countries has become a key focus of the trade talks.

The ministers did not single out the European Union or any other participant as the main contributor to the WTO stalemate _ though some ministers have openly blamed Europe on the sidelines of APEC meetings.

In a draft of a separate statement being prepared on the issue of the WTO, ministers said that ``significant progress must be made in Hong Kong.''

``There is more at stake here than just another phase of economic liberalization,'' says the draft, a copy of which was seen by The Associated Press. ``A successful conclusion of the Doha round is crucial for the future credibility of the WTO and the rules-based multilateral trading system.''

``We don't believe the world community will let this once-in-a-generation opportunity slip past us,'' U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said.

``Clearly there are differences of opinion that will be hard to bridge in the next couple of weeks,'' he said. ``But I do think we can bridge the differences by having APEC play a more central role in the talks.''

In their broader statement, ministers endorsed anti-corruption measures, the free flow of investment and the simplification of customs procedures among APEC's 21 member economies.

Corruption ``is one of the largest barriers to APEC's road to free trade, to increased economic development and to greater prosperity,'' the statement said.

``Ministers reiterated that terrorism was a serious threat to the security, stability and growth of the APEC region,'' it said. The statement said APEC should develop new initiatives to prevent terrorism, and expressed condolences for bereaved families who have lost loved ones in terrorist strikes.

It also noted with concern the threat posed by bird flu to the APEC region as well as the rest of the world.

Analysts and even some government officials say APEC, which has Russia as its only member from the European sphere, may lack the firepower to push through a conclusion in the WTO.

Many APEC members are exporting economies that stand to make big gains from greater access to highly protected markets in Europe and elsewhere. Europe's trade chief Peter Mandelson said recently the EU would make no new offer on agriculture ahead of the Dec. 13-15 Hong Kong meeting.

APEC, whose members include seven of the world's 13 largest economies, represents more than a third of the world's population, about 60 percent of the global economy and nearly half of world trade.