- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

Leaders from the Americas, Asia and the Pacific meeting in Thailand are trying to revive global trade talks that collapsed last month under the stress of a rich-poor divide.

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which runs through Tuesday, brings together leaders from 21 nations that together account for more than 2.5 billion people, a combined economic output of $19 trillion and 47 percent of world trade, according to figures from APEC.

President Bush was scheduled to arrive in Thailand last night and depart Tuesday. Cabinet-level officials have already started a series of meetings.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick yesterday met with fellow trade officials and World Trade Organization Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi to discuss restarting the trade talks.

Mr. Zoellick, in Thailand yesterday and today, told officials that “hand-wringing is not enough. We need to be hands-on and get to the substance,” according to spokesman Richard Mills.

Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile said APEC trade and economic ministers meeting earlier in the day agreed to push for the trade negotiations to be put back on track, Agence France-Presse reported.

“Hopefully, by the end of this weekend, the APEC leaders will send a strong signal to the WTO to get on with the job in Geneva,” he said.

Several other leaders from the APEC nations said reviving the World Trade Organization talks, which collapsed last month at a meeting in Cancun, Mexico, is a priority.

Officials meeting in Bangkok cannot make decisions on behalf of the WTO’s 148 members, but any declaration from the diverse group of nations would offer some hope for the global round of negotiations.

The Cancun meetings collapsed when rich and poor nations fought to a standstill over investment rules and farm subsidies. For the first time, developing nations formed strong tactical blocs in the negotiations and, when their demands were not met, the meeting was ended without any agreements.

But WTO officials did create a series of documents that attempted to summarize positions of the nations and that would form a starting point for further negotiations. Mr. Zoellick yesterday suggested those as a way to get talks moving.

“If this pans out this could be the pathway for negotiations to move forward,” said a U.S. trade official, who asked not to be named.

Earlier this week, WTO delegates met in Geneva for the first time since the Cancun debacle. Mr. Panitchpakdi and Carlos Perez del Castillo, chairman of the WTO’s governing body, promised to press negotiations forward and alluded to the text as a starting point.

“We know that the rest of the draft ministerial text has not been approved in Cancun, and that there may be certain other issues that also need to be addressed,” Mr. Perez del Castillo said in remarks to delegates.

“What I can say is that we will build on the work in Cancun,” he added.

That work angered developing countries by requesting they reform domestic laws to ease investment by multinational companies, to make government procurement more transparent and to clarify rules for customs.

Developing nations, led by Brazil, India and China, also demanded that richer countries, especially the United States, the 15 European Union members and Japan, reduce subsidies to farmers. The payments distort prices and make it harder for producers who do not receive subsidies to earn a living.

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