Asia-Pacific leaders call on Europe to be more flexible18/11/2005 - 10:53:19
Asia-Pacific leaders called on Europe to be more flexible at world trade negotiations as they opened an annual summit today, warning crucial talks next month on freeing markets could be a last chance to make progress toward that goal.
“We’re basically saying that now the ball is in Europe’s court,” South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said after leaders of the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum started a two-day summit in the port city of Busan.
As the leaders met, rock-throwing protesters clashed with riot police who sprayed them with high-power water hoses about 500 yards from the summit venue. The demonstration was on the other side of a river from the summit, which wasn’t interrupted in any way.
At the meeting, leaders including US President George Bush, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Russian President Vladimir Putin were expected to launch a bid to revive the stalled global free trade talks while pledging unity in combating bird flu and terrorism.
Ban said the leaders at the meeting “were asking for a very active and flexible attitude in negotiations from the Europeans.”
Disputes over subsidies protecting European farmers and other issues have caused hopes of a breakthrough at World Trade Organisation talks set for next month in Hong Kong to plummet.
Failure at those talks could mean “it would be a very long time before we have another opportunity to make progress in the negotiations,” the leaders said, according to Ban. “There is a possibility that we might lose momentum in the negotiations if we don’t do something at the Hong Kong meeting.”
Some 4,000 people took part in the anti-globalization protests. After marching on the venue, some threw rocks and debris at riot police while trying to break through a barricade. Police tried to disperse them using high-powered water hoses. The protest eventually broke up, with at least one arrest. Eleven officers were injured, police said.
As they marched, the protesters chanted slogans and carried signs reading “Get rid of Apec” and “Let’s get Bush.” They were led by thousands of farmers, who are angry about plans to liberalise South Korea’s rice market.
Tens of thousands of police and military forces were deployed in Busan against terrorist attacks and to keep protesters away from summit venues.
The leaders are set to endorse a statement agreed upon earlier by Apec ministers that aims to foster progress in the WTO’s so-called Doha round. It acknowledged “considerable divergences” and said “a clear roadmap” must be established if the Doha round is to succeed.
Ban said Australia and Canada had called for a stronger statement, but that making changes at such a late stage in the week-long Apec forum would be too difficult.
Earlier today, the presidents of Chile and Mexico defended bilateral and regional free trade agreements as good for their economies, but emphasised a strong WTO-based system was their ultimate goal. China and Chile signed a free-trade agreement on Apec’s sidelines – the first between the Asian giant and a Latin American country.
Mexican President Vicente Fox told a chief executives’ gathering alongside the Apec summit that the leaders must “come up with a very solid, strong voice” ahead of the WTO’s Hong Kong meeting.
But there was also pessimism about what can be accomplished.
“It’s not being melodramatic to say that unless there is a very significant shift in the attitude of some countries, we are not going to have a successful Doha trade round,” Australian Prime Minister John Howard said. He named the European Union and Japan as among the holdouts.
In their “Busan Declaration,” the leaders will support free trade and express strong concern about the threats of terrorism and bird flu.
“Terrorism remains as a menacing threat to our world and we condemned terrorist acts that not only took thousands of lives but have also been aiming to destabilise the security of the region,” the draft states.
Concerns about a possible human pandemic spawned by bird flu have grown in recent days with China announcing its first human cases, including the first deaths. Bush is expected to make bird flu a major focus, and Apec leaders are set to agree to boost their preparedness against a possible outbreak.
Howard urged countries to put aside “national pride or self-consciousness” and be open about reporting outbreaks.
“The last thing that any nation can afford, not only in its own interests but in the interests of fellow members of the world community, is to in any way hide or cover up the onset of the signs of an outbreak of something that could turn into a pandemic,” Howard said at the executives’ forum.
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