APEC ministers confirm plan to promote global trade, fight bird flu and terrorism

Pacific Rim Cabinet ministers on Wednesday acknowledged differences among participants in global trade talks ahead of a key World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong, and said they would pursue initiatives to fight the spread of bird flu and global terrorism. In a joint statement, ministers of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum said a successful meeting in Hong Kong next month was critical to the success of the so-called Doha round of trade talks, which they hoped can be completed by the end of 2006.

The statement acknowledged "considerable divergences" and said "a clear roadmap" must be established if the Doha round is to succeed. Breaking a deadlock in the WTO over subsidies in the heavily-protected farming sectors of Europe and some other developed countries has become a key focus of the trade talks.

In a draft of a separate statement being prepared on the issue of the WTO, ministers said that "significant progress must be made in Hong Kong."

"There is more at stake here than just another phase of economic liberalization," says the draft, a copy of which was seen by The Associated Press. "A successful conclusion of the Doha round is crucial for the future credibility of the WTO and the rules-based multilateral trading system."

In their broader statement, ministers endorsed the importance of anti-corruption measures, the free flow of investment and the simplification of customs procedures among APEC's 21 member economies.

Corruption "is one of the largest barriers to APEC's road to free trade, to increased economic development and to greater prosperity," the statement said.

"Ministers reiterated that terrorism was a serious threat to the security, stability and growth of the APEC region," it said. The statement said APEC should develop new initiatives to prevent terrorism, and expressed condolences for bereaved families who have lost loved ones in terrorist strikes.

It also noted with concern the threat posed by bird flu to the APEC region as well as the rest of the world.

The statement will be handed to APEC leaders for their approval when they meet on Friday and Saturday for their annual summit.

In remarks to the foreign and trade ministers' meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said success in global trade talks was vital.

"This achievement could launch the biggest reduction of poverty the world has ever seen _ helping hundreds of millions of people to lift themselves out of misery and need," Rice said. "We cannot let this hopeful opportunity pass."

Rice also urged ministers to unite to counter of terrorism and bird flu while helping foster greater prosperity by bolstering the rule of law and open trade. She singled out the threat of shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles. The United States won agreement earlier from senior officials on a plan to test major airports in APEC member countries for whether they are protected against the devices.

Also Wednesday, Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Seoul for talks with President Roh Moo-hyun ahead of the APEC summit. A key topic of the meeting between Hu and Roh was expected to be the standoff over North Korea's nuclear programs. The latest round of negotiations on the dispute ended Friday in Beijing with no sign of progress.

Foreign and trade ministers from APEC's 21 member economies held a plenary session on Wednesday, a day after trade envoys met WTO chief Pascal Lamy.

Analysts and even some government officials say APEC, which has Russia as its only member from the European sphere, may lack the firepower to push through a conclusion in the WTO, reports the AP. I.L.

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