Apec steps up pressure on Europe

Busan, South Korea, Nov 18 | Updated: Nov 19 2005, 06:52am hrs
Leaders of Pacific Rim economies accounting for nearly half of the worlds commerce agreed on Friday to demand that trade giants break an impasse on opening up markets or risk undermining the global trading system. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum praised concessions made by the United States, but singled out the European Union as the one who had to offer greater access for its agricultural markets.

The leaders here ... are basically saying that now the ball is in Europes court, he said after the first session of the 21 APEC members two-day summit in the South Korean city of Busan.

There was no mention of the EU in the final draft of a summmit statement obtained by Reuters. But the draft, which will be issued on Saturday, made an indirect reference to Europe by calling for greater access for farm goods. About two km (1.25 miles) from the convention centre where the leaders met, thousands of farm activists and union workers clashed with police, hurling bottles and swinging bamboo sticks at police who responded with water cannon.

The WTO is an evil and dirty party, Moon Kyung-sik, chairman of the farm activist group, the Korea Peasants League, said as it rallied protesters. Organisers had hoped as many as 100,000 would attend planned rallies on Friday but only about 2,000 farmers and farm activists and 3,000 union workers made it. They said police turned back bus-loads of people on highways before they even got to Busan.

Some 30,000 police officers were on duty in the city of 3.7 million people, Secret Service agents were on alert at US President George W Bushs hotel and a naval cordon guarded the domed sea-front retreat where leaders will meet on Saturday.

Top of the Apec agenda was how to advance talks on the Doha trade round, which have stalled over the EUs refusal to make further cuts in import tariffs on farm goods without offers from developing countries of more market

access. The World Trade Organisation had hoped for an outline agreement to be reached in Hong Kong next month, paving the way for a deal next year, but that meeting now looks set to be a staging post rather than a milestone because of the impasse.