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APEC may forge ties as WTO's Doha trade talks stall

Twenty-one leaders from the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation forum may forge closer trade ties as the World Trade Organization struggles to resolve its stalled talks, the co-chairman of APEC's business advisory council said.

Vietnam, host of this weekend's summit of leaders from APEC members, said the meeting may be the “last chance” to rescue the so-called Doha round of global trade talks, which the WTO suspended in July. The talks had aimed to reduce trading barriers, with richer countries cutting farm aid in return for access to markets in developing nations. “If Doha doesn't go, I think APEC will be proceeding with some initiatives of its own, both complementary and supplementary,” Mark Johnson, co-chairman of APEC's business advisory council, said in an interview in Hanoi. “If those players decide they're not going to play those chips in the Doha game for whatever reason, then they have the political motive to play them in Asia-Pacific.”

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy on October 17 cited a gap on agriculture negotiations involving the US, the European Union, Australia, Brazil, India and Japan. Leaders from three of the six, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President George W. Bush, are scheduled to attend the APEC summit. Others include Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bush arrived in Singapore today after a stopover in Moscow, before heading to Hanoi for the APEC summit this weekend. A free-trade agreement for APEC members may be “an idea whose time has not yet come,” because the group remains a voluntary organization without the resources to enforce such a pact, Johnson said. The forum had “subcontracted” the trade- liberalization front to WTO. “There's been some kind of mixed sentiment on the relevance of APEC from the time we came into being,” Philippine Trade Secretary Peter Favila said in an interview. “It has become more relevant in the light of the call of various economies on the urgency of getting the Doha talks back on the table.” A trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region would be attractive to the US and other key markets because it's average economic growth is 7%, exceeding other parts of the world, said Johnson, who will be the chairman of the business advisory council in 2007. Trade in the region also surpasses the 9% global average, he added. Bush, after talks today in Singapore with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, praised the city state's open markets. Lee said the two discussed regional economic matters as well as instability in the Middle East. There is a “significant degree of matching in our views,” Lee said. “Our interests are aligned.” Bush arrives in Hanoi tomorrow.

The 21 Pacific Rim economies in APEC account for 57% of the world's economic output and 41% of global trade. Members include US, Japan, China, Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Hong Kong, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. (Bloomberg)