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APEC Looking To Revive WTO Talks

Ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will recommend the creation of an APEC-wide free trade zone.

TOKYO (Kyodo) - Pacific Rim trade ministers will show their determination at a meeting next week to revive stalled global market liberalization talks and urge their trading partners such as Brazil, India and Europe to demonstrate ''the necessary flexibility'' to break the impasse, according to a draft of their post-meeting statement.

The ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will agree during the two-day gathering from Thursday in Cairns, Australia, to recommend to their leaders in September ''practical measures'' to take to realize a plan to create an APEC-wide free trade zone, says the draft statement, a copy of which was obtained Friday by Kyodo News.

Practical measures may include a plan to combine existing bilateral or multilateral free trade agreements in the region in a multilayered process of promoting a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, or FTAAP, diplomatic sources said.

The trade chiefs will also vow to develop open and market-based energy markets as a way of ''encouraging greater energy efficiency and the take-up of new, lower-emission and more energy-efficient technologies,'' which would help create a post-Kyoto Protocol framework to fight global warming, the draft says.

The meeting comes at a time when negotiators are studying next steps at the World Trade Organization following last week's collapse of crucial talks involving the United States, the European Union, Brazil and India, making it increasingly difficult for the 150-member WTO to successfully conclude the Doha Round by the year-end deadline.

''We are ready to engage personally and directly in an effort to finalize modalities and move to the concluding stages in the negotiations,'' the draft says, alluding to APEC's 21 member economies including Japan, the United States and China.

''We urge our trading partners to show similar determination and the necessary flexibility to move forward,'' it says, in an apparent reference to major non-APEC economies such as Brazil, India and the European Union. ''We reaffirm the importance of achieving an ambitious, balanced and comprehensive agreement on the DDA.''

DDA stands for Doha Development Agenda, the formal name of the WTO's Doha Round of trade liberalization talks launched in the Qatari capital in 2001. The round is aimed at adding billions of dollars to the world economy and lifting millions out of poverty.

Key WTO members have been striving to agree on the framework of a deal to reduce barriers to commerce in agriculture, manufacturing and services by the end of July, leaving enough time for technical work on a final accord by the year's end.

Without a breakthrough by August, the Doha Round could be put on hold for several more years—or even fail altogether—as farm subsidy and tariff concessions are unlikely in 2008, when U.S. elections are to be held, and 2009, when elections are scheduled in India.

On an APEC-wide FTA, the APEC trade ministers said, ''We agreed that the time is right to comprehensively examine what would be involved in regional economic integration including a possible FTAAP,'' according to the draft statement.

''We agreed to prepare a report to leaders in September recommending a number of practical measures to further promote economic integration in the region,'' it says, referring to the September summit of APEC leaders in Sydney.

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

The idea of an FTAAP drew attention at the APEC leaders' summit last year in Hanoi, with the United States a key advocate. During the summit, the leaders took note of the need to start a feasibility study on a plan to create an FTAAP as a long-term prospect.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said Japan sees the FTAAP plan as significant, and that it should be a complement to the WTO.

The trade ministers, meanwhile, noted that climate change and clean development will be a major focus at the upcoming APEC summit in Sydney, the draft says.

APEC leaders are expected during the summit to seek an effective post-Kyoto Protocol regime that also includes China and other major emerging economies as big greenhouse gas emitters along with developed nations.

''As ministers responsible for trade, we have a particular interest in promoting well-functioning energy markets that are progressively characterized by free and open trade, secure and transparent frameworks for investment, market-based price signals, market transparency, good governance and effective competition,'' the draft says.

''Such frameworks are important in encouraging greater energy efficiency and the take-up of new, lower-emission and more energy efficient technologies,'' it says.

Among other issues, the trade chiefs will call for simplifying patent application procedures and stepping up cooperation in patent screening in the region, the draft shows.

Officials say such an APEC-wide initiative is significant because the number of patent applications in the APEC economies totals 1.25 million, accounting for 78 percent of the world's total.

The initiative would also prompt China and Southeast Asian nations to improve their weak protection of intellectual property rights, a key to advancing free trade and investment, they say.

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

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