Asia Pacific leaders urge fresh push on trade

Asia Pacific leaders urge fresh push on trade

Sydney, 9 September 2007 Asia Pacific leaders called Sunday for “urgent" efforts to salvage global trade talks as they wrapped up a key summit in Sydney also marked by heated wrangling over a plan to tackle climate change.

Representing economies that account for nearly half the world’s trade, they predicted remaining differences could be bridged in talks aimed at breaking down tariffs and other barriers to global commerce.

The call came a day after leaders of 21 Pacific rim economies papered over their differences to hammer out an agreement setting “aspirational" goals on curbing greenhouse gas emissions at a summit that triggered the largest security operation in Australia’s history.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, closing the summit, also said the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) would not consider admitting any new members until at least 2010, meaning India will remain out in the cold.

Standing in the gardens of Government House in front of most of the other APEC leaders -- US President George W. Bush had left a day early to return to Washington -- Howard said the leaders wanted all countries to compromise.

He said they were sending “an urgent request for all countries involved in the Doha round to renew their efforts to achieve an outcome, emphasising that agriculture and industrial products are the two priority areas."

Together the APEC economies, including many of the biggest trading nations such as the US, China and Japan, account for 56% of global output and more than 40 percent of its population.

World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy has been in Sydney for the group’s annual meeting to lobby for support in persuading the WTO’s 151 members to reach a compromise.

They are arguing over the size of cuts in barriers to trade in agriculture, industrial goods and services amid fierce disagreements between rich and poor countries over the concessions they need to make.

Bush was not in Sydney for Howard’s comments, having left Saturday to return home to prepare for a landmark report on the war in Iraq.

The Australian prime minister, one of Bush’s closest allies in Iraq, said the summit had left APEC “in great shape."

Howard added: “We are particularly pleased with the progress made with the climate change declaration and the reaffirmation of the central importance of trade liberalisation."

The Doha Round of negotiations “still represent the last best hope for an aggregate multilateral trade agreement," he told a news conference later.

The leaders also promised to increase cooperation on a range of other concerns, from contaminated foods, pandemics and intellectual piracy to regional security and the fight against terrorism.

Conference sources said the reference to contaminated products, while long an APEC concern, had become more significant amid international fears over a spate of recalls of Chinese foodstuffs and other goods.

On Saturday, APEC leaders issued the summit’s flagship announcement, an agreement setting non-binding goals on reducing energy intensity and increasing forest cover as part of the wider fight against global warming.

Howard hailed it at the closing news conference as “by far the most important statement" to come out of the summit.

He described the agreement as a “milestone" in the fight against climate change that drew in rich and poor countries for the first time, but environmental groups dismissed it as meaningless.

“It is a political stunt," said Greenpeace Southeast Asia energy campaigner Abigail Jabines. “Developing nations of the Asia Pacific region cannot afford to accept lip service instead of action."

Despite suggestions that summits such as this produce little in the way of action, regional analyst Charles Morrison said he had been “pleasantly surprised."

As the leaders headed for the airport and home, Howard apologised for the security lockdown that had seen a huge steel and concrete fence snaking through Sydney’s streets and security forces patrolling land, sea and air.

He revealed that the APEC summit would be hosted by the United States in 2011 and Russia a year later, after summits in Peru next year, then Singapore and Japan in 2009 and 2010.