APEC to set pace for reviving stalled WTO talks

Agence France Presse

Washington, May 31:

Ministers of 21 Asia Pacific economies, controlling nearly half of world trade, meet in Chile this week under pressure from business groups in the region to jumpstart stalled global trade talks. Facing a self-imposed July deadline, the trade ministers from industrialised and developing economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum may achieve agreement on some key issues that could salvage the Doha round of trade talks, officials said.

The talks collapsed in September last year due largely to disputes over cross-border investment and competition which added to a more fundamental dispute about richer states’ farming subsidies, and tariffs imposed on agriculture imports by developing nations.

Ricardo Lagos, a senior government official from Chile, said there were high expectations for the June 4-5 APEC ministerial meeting to follow up on ‘good progress’ made at recent Paris talks among 28 key World Trade Organisation (WTO) members.

“The feeling I get from delegations from many economies is that they are looking forward to APEC to really making a difference in terms of taking an extra step towards reaching that goal before the end of July,” Lagos said. Officials believe consensus was evolving around the sticky issue of trade facilitation, one of four so-called ‘Singapore issues’ fleshed out at a meeting on the Southeast Asian island state way back in 1996. The other issues are cross-border investment and competition and transparency in government procurement. The European Union (EU) and Japan had been pushing for all four to be included in the Doha Round, much to the chagrin of developing countries but of late seem to accept talks on just trade facilitation based on significant customs reform.

Market access for agricultural products remains the biggest obstacle in current World Trade Organisation negotiations but some movement by developing countries has been noted in recent weeks, trade analysts say. Trade facilitation, aimed at making doing business in the region easier and less costly, is one of APEC’s three pillars since its inception in 1989.

The others are achieving free and open trade and investment by 2020 and building an economic and technical cooperation framework. Although not a negotiating body as the WTO, APEC — which accounts for 60 per cent of world GDP and 47 per cent of world trade — is coming under increasing pressure to lead the global push for trade and investment reforms.

APEC players

APEC comprises Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.