Apec may make pledge to support WTO talks

Nov 14 | Updated: Nov 15 2005, 05:30am hrs
Asia Pacific leaders will probably try to save next months World Trade Organisation talks from failure by urging the European Union to cut agriculture tariffs that nations such as Australia and Brazil say are too high.

Presidents George W Bush, of the US, and Chinas Hu Jintao will join Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and 18 other heads of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation economies for a Nov. 18-19 meeting in Busan, South Korea. They may also pledge to combat the threat of an avian influenza pandemic, discuss curbing terrorism and the effect of high oil prices on their economies.

Garnering support for the WTO negotiations is the No. 1 issue and the leaders will make a standalone statement on this, Choi Seok-Young, executive director of the APEC Secretariat in Singapore said. Bird flu will be one of the most important issues to be discussed because it could harm our people through illness, death and through loss of business and jobs.

Negotiators from 148 WTO member countries had aimed to use a Dec. 13-18 ministerial summit in Hong Kong to conclude two-thirds of a deal that would add billions of dollars to the global economy. That would have put the WTO negotiations on track to wrap up by the end of 2006, before the Bush administrations negotiating mandate expires in July 2007.

Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim said on Nov. 8 the Hong Kong summit may only achieve a third of the work for an accord. US Trade Representative Robert Portman said on Nov. 9 hes made little headway in negotiating cuts in European farm import tariffs. The US on Oct 10 offered to end its farm subsidy export programmes by 2010 and cut its domestic subsidies by 50%. We all have common interests in the WTO ministerial meeting succeeding, Indonesias Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda said after a bilateral meeting today in Busan with his South Korean counterpart Ban Ki Moon.

Australia and other countries need better access to European markets for their farm goods, Australian agriculture minister Peter McGauran said Nov. 3. Its just absurd how we cant gain that access, McGauran, 49, said in an interview in Canberra. Australias prime interest is in market access. Thats the big-ticket item. The main impediment has been disagreements over how much to scale back farm-related subsidies, tariffs and other industry supports in rich economies such as the US and Europe.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson on Oct. 28 made what he described as a bottom-line offer to implement the deepest-ever cuts in European agricultural import tariffs in a bid to motivate his counterparts to move on with the rest of the WTO agenda. India and Brazil rejected his proposal as too modest and insist that agriculture is the priority for developing nations. We are on the brink of multilateralism in trade failing, said Manu Bharkaran, a Singapore-based partner at Centennial Group.