APEC trade ministers warn against protectionism

SINGAPORE: Asia-Pacific trade ministers warned here Wednesday against growing protectionism amid a global economic slowdown and pledged to step up efforts to forge a new world trade regime by 2010.

Delgates from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum agreed after a two-day meeting to renew a commitment made last year to refrain from putting up new restrictive trade measures.

"We acknowledge that there are growing protectionist pressures worldwide... We are very conscious that if protectionism is not controlled, this could be a severe setback to our growth prospects," Singapore Trade Minister Lim Hng Kiang said at a news conference.

"It will invite tit-for-tat retaliation and all the gains of trade liberalisation over the last few years could be unravelled," said Lim, who chaired the meeting.

"In this spirit, we will avoid implementing any measures that have protectionist effects even if they are compatible with WTO rules."

They also agreed that a successful conclusion to the Doha round of talks on a new World Trade Organization (WTO) deal in 2010 was key to resisting protectionism, Lim said.

The Doha round was launched in the Qatari capital in late 2001 but has repeatedly foundered, notably over disputes between rich and developing nations on agricultural and industrial products.

APEC was set up in 1989 to promote trade and strengthen cooperation in the Asia Pacific region.

Its members -- including the United States, China, Japan and Russia -- account for more than half the world's gross domestic product and almost 44 percent of international trade.

The meeting in Singapore came two weeks after a Group of Eight summit in L'Aquila, Italy, where leaders of the world's most powerful nations and emerging economies agreed to wrap up the Doha talks by 2010.