Apec looks to break Doha deadlock

Leaders from around the Pacific rim said they were ready to break a deadlock in global trade talks at a summit on Saturday that also looked close to delivering a joint message to North Korea to forswear its nuclear ambitions.

In a statement issued on the first day of their two-day summit, leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum said “major players” in the group were ready to commit to deeper cuts in trade-distorting farm support.

The statement, which gave no details, said the leaders also vowed to make “real cuts” in industrial tariffs, and establish new openings in services trade.

“We have an urgent need to break the current deadlock and to put the negotiations back on a path towards a timely conclusion,” the statement said.

The Doha round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks collapsed in July amid bitter disputes over farm subsidies among six key players—the European Union, India and Brazil and Apec members the United States, Australia and Japan.

Apec accounts for nearly half of global trade and nearly 60% of the world’s GDP and encompasses economies and political systems as different as global superpower the United States and the tiny sultanate of Brunei.

The weekend summit is the culmination of a week-long extravaganza of plenary sessions, back-room meetings and banquets attended by 10 000 officials, businessmen and journalists at Hanoi’s brand new $270-million convention centre.

Their agenda is just as diverse and wide-ranging, from climate change and customs procedures to economic security threats and the role of women in development.

Although the group was formed in 1989 to focus on mutual trade and economic concerns, its annual meeting is regularly hijacked by security issues, a fact that Malaysia complained about on Saturday in a rare note of dissonance.

“Its assumption of some security role following the September 11 attacks in the US has compromised its original purpose and blurred its focus,” Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi told business executives and officials at a parallel “CEO summit”.

Leaders needed to “make the Apec agenda more relevant to the needs and aspirations of all member economies and not just a few”, Abdullah said.

North Korea

This year looked to be no different.

All of the countries involved in six-party talks to end North Korea’s nuclear programmes are in Hanoi except for the North itself, and the five leaders spent most of the morning in a series of meetings on what should be expected out of the next round.

The five have not always acted in tandem.

Washington and Japan consistently argue for the toughest possible stand, while neighbours China and South Korea favour an approach focused on dialogue—including direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang, which the United States rejects.

All five, including hosts China, sent out the same message that the talks needed to be resumed as soon as possible but no date had been set.

Bush met South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe separately, then jointly, on Friday.

Bush and Abe agreed to strengthen pursuit of a ballistic missile defence against the threat of North Korean missiles.

Roh stopped short of agreeing to take part in the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative aimed at intercepting North Korean ships, on the grounds it could lead to armed clashes. But he did say he supported the initiative’s goals.

The need for talks, stalled since last year, became all the more pressing after North Korea conducted a nuclear test on October 9, drawing United Nations sanctions. North Korea has since agreed to return but no date has been set.

White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said Apec leaders had largely agreed on a statement to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea and were just working on the wording.
The statement was likely to be released on Sunday, officials said.

Bush is the second American president to visit Hanoi since the end of the war and has been dogged by comparisons with Iraq. On Saturday, he visited the joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, where US experts are working to find and identify the remains of American war dead.

It was only a brief stop for Bush, who has made clear that rather than dwelling on old animosities, he wants to focus on Vietnam as an emerging trade partner and economic success story.—Reuters

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