Cairns: Trade ministers from 21 APEC nations began gathering in Australia on 5 July for talks they hope could provide a spark to reignite stalled efforts to liberalise world trade.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum talks in the northern city of Cairns mark the first major trade ministers’ meeting to take place since negotiations over the liberalising global trade collapsed two weeks ago.
Australian Trade Minister Warren Truss, who is chairing the meeting in the run-up to the APEC leaders’ summit in Sydney in September, said that while the ministers had a broader agenda, they could provide leadership on resolving the impasse on agriculture and manufacturing.
“Foremost in our discussions today will be an assessment of the Doha round of negotiations and an examination of how we may be able to contribute constructively to that process,” he told the ministers.
“If we are able to reach a degree of consensus, well that can provide some leadership,” he added in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The Doha round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks remain stalled over agricultural subsidies and trade tariffs.
Discussions between the so-called G4 — the European Union, United States, Brazil and India — collapsed last month in Germany.
But analysts said any breakthrough in Cairns was very unlikely as the US is the only G4 economy to be represented at the meeting.
Truss conceded that the failure of the G4 talks again raised the question of whether the Doha round could reach a conclusion suitable to all 150 members of the WTO but said there remained a glimmer of hope on resurrecting the talks.
“The failure of the G4 to reach an agreement ... has certainly again raised questions about our capacity to conclude a successful deal in the short- to medium-term.
“Shortly, it’s expected the agriculture and non-agricultural negotiating chairs will issue draft texts and hopefully that will create some sort of a basis for a new round of discussions,” he said
United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab told the ABC that APEC, whose members account for 60% of the world’s gross domestic product, could play an important role in breathing life into the WTO talks.
“If APEC is able to make a statement as a group then that is likely to influence the outcome (of talks at the WTO) in Geneva,” she said.
The ministers, who will meet informally on 5 July before issuing a communique on Friday, will also discuss the long-term goal of a free trade area for the Asia Pacific, an initiative which may gain momentum if the Doha round fails.
Schwab said Washington was keen to discuss the possibility of an Asia-Pacific free trade pact.
“So much of our trade is in the Asia-Pacific region and it would make an incredible amount of sense to see an Asia-Pacific wide trade agreement,” she said.