Forum to Underscore Free Trade

Top trade officials of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC)are expected to voice their commitment to a free, open multilateral trade and investment system next week amid concerns over reviving trade protectionism and uncertain prospects for a new round of global trade talks.

The officials, who are scheduled to meet in Shanghai on Wednesday and Thursday, will continue their talks on APEC's two key missions - trade and investment liberalization and economic and technology co-operation, said Shi Guangsheng, minister for foreign trade and economic co-operation.

Shi will be the chairman for the meeting, the first of a series of ministerial-level meetings of APEC in 2001. China is the host for this year's meetings of APEC, whose 21 member economies account for about 60 per cent of the world's economic output and around half its trade.

As a continuation of a tradition that goes back to 1993, this year's APEC meetings will culminate in an informal gathering of leaders of the member economies in October in Shanghai.

Shi said the commencement of a new round of negotiations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will be high on the agenda of the trade minister conference.

"We hope that we will reach a consensus on this and send the message to the international community that we support a new WTO round," he said in an interview with reporters.

Trade ministers of WTO members will meet in Qatar in November in a fresh attempt to kickstart the new round of trade talks.

Their meeting in Seattle, in the United States, in late 1999 for the same purpose failed, largely because developed and developing countries were deeply at odds on the agenda of negotiations.

Against the background of sluggish world economic growth, observers are concerned that trade barriers might grow as they did in the past global economic slowdown, making the WTO negotiations more difficult.

Despite disputes over the new trade round, it is agreed that a strengthened multilateral trade system will benefit all parties by stabilizing and improving the economic and trade environment.

"I believe APEC members' commitment to the new trade round will facilitate the launch of the new trade round," Shi said.

China is in the final stage of negotiations for its accession to the WTO.

"We (China) have always backed the multilateral trade system represented by the WTO," Shi said.

Shi said the meeting will also push for the implementation of a plan to improve developing countries' abilities in WTO negotiating and implementing WTO agreements.

The APEC includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, China, Chile, China's Hong Kong,Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore,

(China Daily 06/02/2001)

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