Pacific Rim leaders attending an annual summit will call for urgent progress in stalled global trade talks, according to a draft statement, but their officials struggled yesterday to find consensus on another issue - climate change.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard is urging leaders at this year's meeting of the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to forge a new international framework on global warming that rejects binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions.
Howard is seeking agreement on two goals - reforestation and reducing energy intensity - a senior US official said on customary condition of anonymity. But the Australian leader's proposal, which is backed by the United States, has met opposition from some developing countries, APEC diplomats said.
The Philippines, for example, dislikes the proposal in its current form and sees debate as likely, two Southeast Asian officials said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
Malaysia's Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz last week reportedly criticized Australia and the US for not having ratified the UN-backed Kyoto Protocol on curbing climate change that sets emission targets.
Disharmony over climate change is not confined to APEC. Australia's business capital, Sydney, is bracing for protests by activists angry over APEC's pro-business agenda and the policies of US President George W. Bush, who will reach Sydney today.
Nine anti-APEC activists who broke into a coal-fired power station and chained themselves to two conveyor belts to protest against polluting industries were arrested in the southern state of Victoria. The plant had to reduce output and police used power tools to cut the protesters free, officials said.
APEC includes some of the world's biggest polluters - the US and Russia - powers that have differing views on climate change. Any APEC consensus on tackling global warming could help shape future negotiations over climate change, starting with a UN meeting in December to look for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
"I think the APEC meeting is important because it's the first of a manageable size that's brought together" leaders of some of the major polluters,' Howard said on Monday.
On trade, senior APEC officials approved a draft of a statement leaders are expected to adopt during the September 8-9 meeting that calls for a new push for progress by the end of the year in the current, languishing Doha round of global trade talks.
Achieving progress in the trade talks has "never been more urgent", according to a draft of the statement obtained by the Associated Press.
"We pledge to push hard for the progress necessary to ensure the Doha round negotiations enter their final phase this year," it said.
Trade negotiators were scheduled to meet in Geneva later last night to begin three weeks of talks over new proposals to bridge differences on cutting farm subsidies and industrial tariffs among the 151 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
"We all realize that the stakes are high. Time is running out," said David Spencer, the Australian who chaired the APEC officials' meetings on trade. "For the next few weeks, it is critical that we make some progress in an effort to move to the final stages of these negotiations."
Despite APEC's endorsement, which carries the imprimatur of economic powers China, Japan and the US, the group's influence on the Doha talks is limited because it doesn't include key WTO players such as the European Union, India and Brazil.
One US proposal - for a Pacific-wide free trade zone, stretching from Chile to China - was under study by APEC members, though officials cautioned that its creation remained a long way off.
"No one thinks that this is an initiative that will be launched any time soon," Spencer said.
(China Daily via agencies September 4, 2007)