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APEC aims to revive stalled WTO Doha talks

See you in Bali!: Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan (fourth left, first row) shakes hands with Chinese counterpart Gao Hucheng (fifth left) amid a crowd of officials the end of a press conference in Surabaya, East Java, on Sunday. APEC trade ministers ended a two-day meeting in the East Java capital on Sunday. Antara/Ismar Patrizki

Members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum are supporting the revival of the long-stalled Doha Round talks, promising to make the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Bali in December a success.

However, officials from the 21-member bloc meeting in Surabaya, East Java, on Sunday, raised concerns on current negotiations, calling on WTO members to change their “quality and level of engagement” to advance preparations, according to a statement issued at the end of APEC’s trade ministers’ meeting.

“We encourage all members, particularly major players, to work hard to bridge the gap in coming months, recognizing that the continued viability of the WTO’s negotiating function is at serious risk,” Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan, who chaired the two-day meeting, said.

Indonesia is set to host this year’s APEC’s leaders summit in early October in Bali.

Accounting for more than half of the world’s output and 44 percent of world trade, the member nations of APEC have taken responsibility to ensure that there will be concrete results at the Bali meeting, through using their political will while evincing flexibility, Gita added.

WTO deputy director general Alejandro Jara described the statement as “very satisfying” and sending a clear sign to other WTO members to clear the way negotiations for draft deals on targeted deliverables.

“It’s a very important statement because it clearly reflects the views of members that things have to change, [providing] greater engagement to have a successful ministerial meeting in Bali. It’s a call for urgency for engagement,” Jara told The Jakarta Post.

Hosting the 9th WTO ministerial conference (MC9), Indonesia intended for the meeting to end with agreement on a small package of deliverables from the Doha Round trade talks, which have been deadlocked since 2008.

The proposed deliverables — trade facilitation, agriculture and least developed countries packages — have been seen as a stepping stone to revive the talks and move toward new negotiation topics such as services and green technology.

A small package of agricultural deliverables is among the major issues that could incite debate among members and hamper negotiations.

Late last year, under an Indian-led initiative, 46 developing countries under the G33, including China and Indonesia, proposed changing the rules of the world trade governing body to raise limits on subsidized food stockpiling to support poor farmers.

The change was proposed to make it easier for developing economies to buy food at administered prices from poor farmers while building public food stocks or providing domestic aid. This proposal was seen an effort to revive an idea from the Doha Round of talks.

The 157 members of the WTO committed to restricting trade-distorting subsidies, dubbed as “agreed measures of support” (AMS), upon their entry into the body.

The proposal would change the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture, allowing more exemptions on limits to subsidies.

Under the proposed changes, developing economies would be allowed to pay farmers at subsidized prices to stockpile crops without having to account for the price subsidy as part of the AMS.

Australia and China will co-chair a meeting in Geneva at the end of the month to streamline customs measures, among other things, to smooth preparations ahead of Bali.

“This meeting in Geneva is timely because it comes after a successful APEC meeting and we will be able to say that the APEC community supports the work that is necessary to bring this package of measures to a successful conclusion in Bali at the end of this year,” Australian Minister for Trade and Competitiveness Craig Emerson said.

Acting US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis also acknowledged that the current preparations were not “in a good place”.

“The proposals on the table right now walk us back from even the Uruguay Round. We need to focus on this meeting at the month that Australia and China are hosting as a significant event to write the shift in the right direction,” he said.

Source: The Jakarta Post – www.thejakartapost.com