Asia Pacific leaders tackle global trade

Asia Pacific leaders tackle global trade

Sydney, 9 September Asia Pacific leaders were set Sunday to issue a formal appeal for compromises to break a deadlock in world trade talks on the final day of a key regional summit.

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation heads of government, except for US President George W. Bush who flew back to Washington late Saturday, met in Sydney a day after hammering out a contentious agreement on climate change.

Bush rushed home halfway through the summit to prepare for a crucial report on his war in Iraq, leaving fellow leaders to deal with issues ranging from trade to food contamination and admitting new members to APEC.

The stalled Doha Round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks on liberalisation was expected to be top of the agenda, with a special statement due to be issued at the end of the summit.

APEC includes major trading countries such as China, Japan, the US, Russia and Australia. Together, the 21 APEC economies account for nearly half of world trade and 56% of global economic output.

WTO chief Pascal Lamy has been in Sydney for the group’s annual meeting to lobby for support in persuading the global organisation’s 151 members to strike a compromise.

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

On Saturday, the group overcame differences among rich and poor nations on climate change to agree on the need for action to reduce greenhouse gases.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, the summit’s host, hailed it as “a very important milestone towards a sensible international agreement" among developed and developing nations.

Environmentalists dismissed it as meaningless, however, as it contained “aspirational" targets rather than binding conditions.

Other voices of dissent came from thousands of protestors who hit the streets over the weekend -- some dressed as kangaroos -- to protest against the US war in Iraq, globalisation, and other concerns.

The leaders in their final declaration are expected to pledge to work together against the spread of terrorism, pandemics, illicit drugs and contaminated products.

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.

Chinese President Hu Jintao said here ahead of the summit that 99 percent of China’s food exports were safe. He called product quality a global problem that Beijing would be willing to help tackle.

The leaders are expected to maintain a moratorium on new members, meaning that India and several other nations will remain out in the cold.

India has been knocking on the door of the forum for years and had been hoping the end of a 10-year moratorium on new members from 1997 would help its case.

Other nations due to be turned away include India, Colombia, Ecuador, Macau, Mongolia, Pakistan, Panama, Sri Lankas Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

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.