APEC blames Europe for trade deadlock, calls urgent meeting

Original Publication Date: 
14 November, 2005
BUSAN, South Korea (AFP) - Asia-Pacific nations blamed the European Union for the gridlock in global trade talks as they called an urgent meeting to rescue next month's World Trade Organisation forum in Hong Kong.

Trade ministers from the 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum will meet here Tuesday to address the December 13-18 WTO meeting in talks to be attended by WTO secretary general Pascal Lamy.

Ahead of the talks, APEC heavyweights Australia and the United States both took aim at the EU, which has been accused of showing too little flexibility on reducing its huge agriculture subsidies.

"We, from Australia's perspective, expect the European Union to understand what the rest of the world is saying about market access," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told AFP on Monday.

"We expect a better offer from the European Union on market access than has so far been the case."

US Trade Representative Rob Portman also placed the onus on Europe for a breakthrough.

"This is a once in a generation opportunity," said Portman in Beijing. "And if we allow this to go by, we miss an opportunity."

To make the Hong Kong meeting a success, the European Union must adequately reduce agriculture tariffs and quotas, Portman said, blaming EU unwillingness to do so for "blocking the talks."

Developing countries, which have a comparative advantage in agriculture, will not likely sign onto a trade liberalization agreement unless rich countries reduce their protection of agriculture sectors, said Portman.

"So we've got to get the tariffs down and the European Union is frankly not willing to provide meaningful market access by reducing tariffs and quotas," Portman said.

Attempts to unlock the tangle in the WTO negotiations are dominating this week's APEC's meetings in the South Korean city of Busan which will culminate in a two-day summit beginning Friday.

APEC officials were Monday still fine-tuning a hard-hitting statement to be released at the summit calling on all nations in the trade dispute to make compromises.

Roberto Romulo, a senior advisor to Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, said APEC discussions were focused on the WTO logjam and in particular the EU's role.

"The EU is the biggest frustration at this point in time," he said.

The round of WTO talks launched in the Qatari capital Doha in 2001 has become bogged down over the issue of agriculture subsidies, pitting mainly rich nations against developing nations.

Throughout the past week trade officials have expressed gloom about the Hong Kong meeting and the WTO has scaled down its goals. Ministers have also suggested a "Hong Kong II" meeting, possibly in March.

European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and other EU officials have in recent days predicted failure in Hong Kong, citing what they call intransigence from Brazil and the United States.

A draft of the statement to be issued by APEC presidents and prime ministers, who govern a region accounting for nearly half of global trade, says that while the goals of the Hong Kong meeting can be scaled down, the overall success of the Doha round must be assured.

"We, the APEC Leaders, are prepared to exercise strong political leadership and provide the commitment necessary to produce in Hong Kong a sound platform for successfully concluding the negotiations," the draft finalised Monday says, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

Foreign ministers from the APEC bloc -- which also includes Japan, Russia and China -- are to begin two days of meetings on Tuesday.

As well as the troubled state of global trade talks, the ministers are set to discuss a range of pressing issues including joint action against bird flu, terrorism and the North Korean nuclear crisis.

The APEC forum was launched in 1989 and aims to establish a free trade area by 2020.