APEC ministers agree to push for WTO deal

APEC ministers agree to push for WTO deal

Sydney: Asia-Pacific ministers agreed on 6 September to accelerate global free-trade talks, saying that negotiations were at a crucial and probably final phase.

However, trade and foreign ministers at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, wrapping up a two-day meeting ahead their leaders’ summit at the weekend, said tough hurdles remained.

“We confirmed our commitment to the WTO," Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu told reporters. The 21-member APEC economies account for half of global trade and nearly 60% of the world’s gross domestic product.

“We have to be optimistic and we all agree that this is already the very crucial window of opportunity and we should work hard, intensively in the Geneva process," she said.

Japan said World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks should enter their final phase by the end of this year.

“I requested during the meeting that WTO members converge their discussions based on the draft texts and that negotiations enter the final phase by the end of the year," Kyodo quoted Japanese Trade Industry Minister Akira Amari as saying.

APEC, which includes leading trading nations such as the United States, Japan, China, Australia and Russia, said it would work on draft texts on agriculture and non-agricultural market access that were tabled last month.

“The important conclusion that came out of this meeting is that we all agree we should work based on the draft texts as the basis of negotiations," Pangestu said.

Trade diplomats resumed their meeting in Geneva on Monday for “practical and business-like" talks about the compromises needed to clinch the trade accord this year.

New Zealand Ambassador Crawford Falconer, who chairs the WTO agriculture negotiations, said this week he was encouraged by the no-nonsense tone that dominated the group’s first meeting after a summer break.

Arguments over the size of cuts needed to farming subsidies and tariffs, especially in rich nations such as the United States and France, are among the toughest challenges in the way of a WTO deal on agriculture, industrial goods and services.

The Doha Round, named after the Qatari capital where negotiations were launched in November 2001, were first meant to wrap up by the end of 2004. The talks have struggled to overcome many countries’ resistance to open their farm and manufacturing sectors to more competition.

The EU, the United States, Brazil and India -- failed in June to agree on the basic contours of a deal on agriculture and industrial goods, casting doubt on whether the full 151-country membership would be able to reach the consensus needed for an accord.