WTO Deal Not Dead Yet, APEC Leaders Say

Pledge ag concessions to make a deal work.

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) - Pacific Rim leaders pledged Saturday to make concessions on agricultural issues to revive stalled World Trade Organization talks, saying they were taking the lead and that others must follow.

''We are ready to break the current deadlock: each of us is committed to moving beyond our current positions in key areas,'' leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum said in a statement.

''That means making deeper reductions in trade-distorting farm support by major players, creating new market access in agriculture, making real cuts in industrial tariffs and establishing new openings in services trade while dealing seriously with members' concerns and sensitivities,'' it said.

The so-called Doha round of WTO talks, aimed at forging a global trade treaty that would slash trade barriers in a bid to boost global growth and alleviate poverty, collapsed four months ago due to differences over farm subsidies and tariffs.

Poorer countries are clamoring for an end to export subsidies and restrictive tariffs that prevent them from selling their farm goods in rich countries. But moves to end such protection have met strong resistance from politically powerful agricultural lobbies in wealthy economies.

Spurred by exhortations from APEC trade and foreign ministers earlier this week, the WTO's 149 members met Thursday in Geneva to discuss the possibility of resuming negotiations.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, who visited the APEC meeting on Wednesday, told WTO ambassadors Thursday they could resume informal meetings on lowering barriers to farm and manufactured goods trade.

Key players in the trade talks _ the European Union, Brazil and India _ are not part of APEC. But the 21-member group accounts for about half the world's trade and about 60 percent of its total economic activity, and Pac-Rim leaders were hoping their renewed resolve might help bring negotiators back to the table.

''All APEC members are ready to lead, but others must also signal their readiness and resolve,'' the statement said.

''APEC's future is inextricably linked to a stronger and vibrant multilateral trading system. We will remain personally involved to ensure that negotiations are resumed and will ensure the necessary flexibility and ambition to secure a breakthrough. We expect our partners in other regions to be similarly bold and engaged.''

In Melbourne, Australia, finance chiefs and central bankers from the Group of 20 economies _ which includes the EU _ also called for a resumption of the WTO talks.

''The Doha round has been discussed and (there was) very strong agreement that we will do whatever we can to get that round up and running,'' Australian Treasurer Peter Costello said Saturday.

Time for an agreement is dwindling because U.S. President George W. Bush's authority to negotiate a trade deal with a simple yes-or-no vote in Congress without amendments expires July 1, 2007. Without that ''fast track'' authority, Congress would be free to reject specific points in any agreement, making it much more difficult to pass.

The statement also welcomed Vietnam's approval for membership in the WTO. Vietnam will officially join the trade body 30 days after its National Assembly approves the agreement.

The leaders also noted the completion of a ''major milestone'' towards Russia's admission to the WTO, a likely reference to an agreement between U.S. and Russian negotiators announced earlier this month on the terms of a bilateral trade deal that would pave the way for Russia to join the trade body.

The actual signing of that agreement is expected at a meeting between the two presidents on Sunday afternoon.