APEC meeting to focus on global warming, trade

APEC meeting to focus on global warming, trade

By Malcolm Foster/AP

Sydney: Officials began arriving in Australia on 1 September to hammer out final details of a statement on climate change and to mark progress toward a Pacific-wide trade pact, days ahead of an annual summit of 21 regional leaders.

While global warming and trade will top the agenda, North Korea and Iraq also will be among the topics discussed on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, one of the largest gatherings of world powers _ and the largest international political meeting that Australia has ever hosted.

US President George W. Bush is scheduled to arrive in Sydney on Tuesday and hold a series of one-on-one meetings over subsequent days with other leaders, including Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Chinese President Hu Jintao, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. A meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin is also a possibility.

The leaders will hold their summit at the Sydney Opera house overlooking Sydney’s scenic harbour 8-9 September.

To protect against terrorist attacks and planned demonstrations, workers are erecting a 3-meter (10-foot) fence that will shut down part of Sydney’s central business district. Combat helicopters, fighter jets and navy ships will back up more than 5,000 police and troops on security patrols, officials said.

Protest organizers hope to draw thousands to demonstrations against Bush and the Iraq war, as well as to push the leaders to take action on global warming.

“The issue is urgent. We’re looking for a sign that these governments are taking climate change seriously," said Alex Bainbridge, a spokesman for a variety of groups organizing demonstrations.

Howard has said global warming will be a top priority at the APEC meeting. However, the group’s 21 members _ which include China, the United States and Russia, the world’s top three greenhouse gas emitters _ are not expected to announce any specific targets to cut carbon emissions.

Instead, they will likely adopt a statement calling for members to voluntarily make “measurable and verifiable contributions to meeting shared global goals," according to a draft obtained by environmental group Greenpeace and viewed by The Associated Press.

That approach is in keeping with the nonbinding nature of APEC, which was formed in 1989 as a consultative forum to promote regional trade. Still, observers say any consensus reached in Sydney could help chart the course for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which expires in 2012.

Bush said Thursday he would tell leaders at the summit that he takes the issue of climate change seriously, and that nations emitting the most greenhouse gases need to reach an accord to address the problem.

The US, which along with China leads the world in emitting carbon dioxide and other gases that scientists say are warming the planet, has called for a 27-28 September conference in Washington of the 15 biggest polluters.

Climate change rated barely a mention at last year’s meeting. Its inclusion this time is an example of how APEC’s agenda has rapidly expanded to include political, security, health and environmental issues.

On trade, APEC leaders will issue their ritual call for the successful conclusion of the Doha round of global trade talks, which have foundered amid bickering between rich and poor nations, largely over farm trade.

Trade minister and leaders will also discuss a longer-term proposal to create a sprawling Pacific-wide free-trade zone, stretching from Chile to China and enveloping nearly half the world’s trade. The idea, dubbed the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, has gained momentum since it was first floated three years ago as a possible alternative to the Doha talks.

Supporters, such as the United States and New Zealand and APEC’s business advisory council, see it as a way to harmonize the spaghetti bowl of bilateral free trade agreements that has made doing business more complex. But other members, such as the Philippines and Thailand, have balked at the idea, because a trade treaty would radically change APEC’s consensus-based character.

“There’s certainly a lot of interest among member countries ... but it’s recognized that it’s a long-term prospect _ not something that can happen next year or the year after," said Colin Heseltine, executive director of the APEC Secretariat.

In bilateral meetings, Bush intends to discuss efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear programme with the leaders of some of the countries involved in the six-party talks _ China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States. North Korea is not an APEC member.

APEC members account for 56% of the world’s economy, 48% of its trade and 40% of its population.