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APEC leaders wind up summit with statements on trade, climate

The leaders of 21 Pacific Rim economies rounded off their summit in Sydney on Sunday with joint statements on trade and climate change, and a final declaration.

The two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit concluded a week of consultations between officials from member states, which include Russia, the United States and China, and account for 60% of the world's economy and around half of global trade. Outside the main summit talks, President Vladimir Putin held separate discussions with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, US President George W. Bush, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the summit’s host, Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Trade talks focused on a long-running standoff over the Doha Development Round of WTO negotiations, aimed at freeing up trade rules between rich countries and emerging markets. Leaders also discussed forming a free trade zone in the Pacific Rim, an idea backed by President Putin. A Russian delegate said Putin told APEC leaders that “setting up a free trade zone in the Asia-Pacific Region is a long-term goal for which Russia and other forum members must work together.” The president said that after Russia joins the WTO, it will be able to engage more fully in these efforts. In their joint statement on WTO negotiations, the leaders underlined their “determination to bring the Doha Round to an early and successful conclusion.”

The Doha Round began in Qatar’s capital six years ago, but has stalled due to disagreements over farming subsidies in the US, the European Union and Japan, and trade tariffs in emerging economies. The statement said: “We pledge the political will, flexibility and ambition to ensure the Doha Round negotiations enter their final phase this year. We call on our WTO partners to join in this vital effort.”

On climate change, leaders of APEC countries, which include three of the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters agreed to non-binding goals on “improving energy efficiency” and “increasing forest cover in the region.” The summit host, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, called the deal a success, but environmental groups dismissed the targets as vague and inadequate, and some called the agreement a mere sidetrack to the Kyoto Protocol on cutting emissions.

In their joint statement the leaders shied away from any compulsory emissions caps, saying, “We support a flexible arrangement that recognizes diverse approaches, and supports practical actions and international cooperation across a broad range of areas relevant to climate change.” President George W. Bush missed the final day of talks in Sydney, under pressure to prepare for a report to be delivered to Congress on Iraq September 15 by the head of the US Iraq mission, Gen. David Petraeus.

At President Putin’s meeting Saturday with Hu Jintao, the Russian leader assured his Chinese counterpart that ties between the countries, which have grown closer in recent years, would remain unchanged after he leaves office.  “We have achieved a peak in Russian-Chinese relations in recent times. There is no doubt that Russia’s policy toward China will remain unchanged over the coming years,” he said. Putin’s term is set to expire next March. The presidents met last month in Kyrgyzstan for the Shanghai Cooperation Summit, which was followed by large-scale “anti-terrorism” military exercises in Russia’s Urals, also involving four Central Asian countries.

On Friday, the day before the summit, Putin and Prime Minister John Howard oversaw the signing of a bilateral nuclear cooperation deal, under which Australia could supply Russia with uranium worth $1 billion.

At the Russian president’s meeting with Japan’s prime minister, the sides discussed an ongoing territorial dispute involving the south Kuril islands, which the Soviet Union annexed from Japan after World War II, and pledged their determination to resolve the dispute. “We will look for a solution that is acceptable both to Russia and to our Japanese partners,” the president told Shinzo Abe. “Russia will continue this work both this year and next year, after parliamentary elections [set for December 2, 2007] and presidential elections,” he said.

Russia and Japan have contested the ownership of the Kuril Islands for over 60 years. Japan maintains that their seizure by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II was illegal, and the dispute has kept the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty. The last day of the Pacific Rim leaders’ summit was interrupted by a brief security scare when a small civilian airplane breached a no-fly zone over Sydney and was intercepted by two FA-18 fighters which reportedly fired flares at the craft. 

The Joint Leaders’ Statement rounding off the summit highlighted the need to promote “open, efficient, transparent and flexible economies” as a means of protection against “economic volatility and disruption caused by natural disasters and other threats to sustainable growth.” The leaders also said in their final declaration that they “recognized that we all face new risks and challenges to people and economies, including from the potential spread across borders of terrorism, pandemics, illicit drugs and contaminated products,” and pledged “to enhance our cooperation on challenges to human security.” (rian.ru)