CAIRNS, Australia (AP) - Hopes for a global trade deal could be dashed for years if a current impasse is not broken this year, the top U.S. trade official said Thursday, launching a bid for Asia-Pacific countries to intensify efforts to save world trade talks.
Trade ministers from the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum—whose members represents half the world's economic output—responded by urging other World Trade Organization members to show the ''political will and flexibility'' to save the worldwide negotiations.
The WTO's so-called Doha round of negotiations dominated a two-day meeting of APEC trade ministers that opened Thursday in the northern Australian city of Cairns.
The latest attempt to revive the round talks failed in Germany last month when the WTO's four biggest powers—the United States, the European Union, Brazil and India—could not break a six-year logjam between rich and poor countries over eliminating barriers to trade in farm produce and manufactured goods.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said time was running out to resuscitate the negotiations.
''There is a sense that if we don't get it done this year ... it will go into hibernation for several years to come and most of us believe that would not be a good outcome,'' she told reporters in Cairns.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Schwab criticized India and Brazil as not working in the best interests of other developing nations.
''Will Thailand or Singapore or Chile or Peru or Mexico or Korea want to say that the very rigid, inflexible, low ambition position taken by India and Brazil represent their interests? I think the answer to that is no,'' she said.
Brazil and India criticize Washington for failing to offer deep enough cuts in the billions of dollars of subsidies it pays annually to American farmers, while the EU and U.S. say the two emerging economic powers refuse to offer new market opportunities for manufacturing exports.
The impasse has left in limbo a new world trade pact aimed at adding billions of dollars to the global economy and lifting millions of people out of poverty.
Australian Trade Minister Warren Truss urged economies not to give up on the current trade round because ''the big four have failed'' to end the impasse.
The APEC ministers on Thursday issued a statement supporting the Doha round.
''There has never been a more urgent need to make progress,'' they said. ''We all undertake to contribute. We will demonstrate the necessary political will and flexibility, and call upon other WTO members to do the same.''
Schwab also said that Washington wants to push APEC toward a free trade zone among its members, though this was a long term goal.
A sprawling APEC-wide free-trade area would stretch from the United States to Russia and from Chile to Australia and cover 40 percent of the world's population and 56 percent of its gross domestic product.
While some APEC members have balked at the idea, others argue that it would standardize the plethora of bilateral free-trade deals and serve as a backup if the WTO talks ultimately fail.
The free trade zone idea will likely be discussed at the APEC leaders’ summit Sept. 8-9 in Sydney.