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2ND LD: APEC ministers eye WTO accord by end of 2007, regional FTA study.

HANOI, Nov. 15 Kyodo


Foreign and trade ministers from 21 Pacific Rim economies agreed Wednesday to work toward restarting and accelerating trade liberalization talks under the World Trade Organization in their annual meeting in Hanoi, with several economies seeking a major accord by the end of next year, Japanese officials said.

Ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum also generally accepted the idea of creating a region-wide free trade zone over the long-term and a plan to report results of a study on the envisioned framework at an APEC summit slated for next September in Sydney, they said.

WTO Director General Pascal Lamy, who was invited to the APEC session, told ministers that a majority of about 30 key WTO players have said in Geneva that the multilateral trade liberalization process should come back to normal, according to the officials.

The Doha Round of WTO global trade talks, which were launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, effectively collapsed in July after negotiations among six key players -- the United States, the European Union, Brazil, India, Japan and Australia -- foundered, mainly over agricultural subsidies and tariff cuts.

Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem, who chaired the ministerial meeting, welcomed moves toward the resumption of the WTO talks and stressed that each major player should put concession plans on the table, they said.

Ministers are expected to lay the groundwork for their leaders' special stand-alone statement to breathe new life into the WTO process, which will be issued Sunday at the end of this year's two-day APEC summit in the Vietnamese capital.

As for the region-wide free trade agreement plan, about half of the 21 APEC members expressed concerns, saying it may block multilateral trade liberalization efforts under the WTO and that negotiating a legally-binding accord could run counter to the regional body's principle of maintaining non-binding rules.

Those economies, especially developing countries, said the idea came up recently and that the proposal is premature because not enough discussions have been held, the Japanese officials said.

Full-fledged debate on the region-wide FTA and how to proceed with a study on the plan is expected to begin from early next year, when Australia hosts the first senior APEC officials meeting, they said.

If realized, the APEC-wide free trade agreement would cover about 60 percent of the world's gross domestic product and half of world trade.

The idea was originally presented by the APEC Business Advisory Council in 2004 and considered by ministers for the first time. ABAC consists of member economies' business leaders.

Ministers also adopted five FTA model chapters that can be used for reference by members in their own free trade negotiations. The five cover trade in goods, transparency, government procurement, cooperation and technical barriers to trade concerning products' international standards, the officials said.

In the afternoon session, APEC ministers endorsed a ''Hanoi Action Plan'' detailing measures for freer trade such as investment promotion and intellectual property rights protection.

APEC members also agreed on a plan to hire a chief operating officer in charge of administrative tasks at the regional body's secretariat in Singapore as part of reform measures to strengthen the organization's functions, they said.

Ministers also discussed a plan to appoint an executive director at the APEC secretariat with a term beyond one year, but failed to reach consensus and decided to continue their debate on the proposal next year.

At present, the APEC secretariat chief is dispatched every year from economies that host APEC meetings.

APEC, set up in 1989, consists of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, South Korea, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Nov 20, 2006
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