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Thursday, 18 October, 2001, 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK
Apec backs world trade round
Ministers of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Shanghai on Wednesday
Apec countries control much of the world's trade
Trade and foreign ministers from the Asia-Pacific region meeting in China have backed a new trade round to tackle the world economic slowdown.

President George W Bush has arrived in Shanghai to attend the meeting, which will be the first gathering of world leaders since the terrorist attacks on 11 September.

On Friday he will hold private meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.

This (the terrorist attack) could result in a much deeper and protracted global downturn, especially if it is also associated with lingering structural weaknesses in Japan.

Apec EconomicOutlook
Restarting world trade talks, scheduled to begin in Doha in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar in November, has become a top priority of the US administration.

"Ministers have expressed explicit and firm support for the launch of a new WTO round at Doha next month," Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said.

For China, the WTO meeting is particularly important, as it will be admitted there as a full member of the trade body, cementing its commitment to global trade.

The US secured another of its goals when all 21 foreign ministers from the Apec group endorsed a statement condemning terrorism.

Slowing growth

The urgency of world trade talks was underlined by the spreading economic gloom in the Asia-Pacific region.

"A move to launch a new global trade round would be a very good signal at a time of economic slowdown, help build confidence in the markets, help guard against protectionism and help build the basis for future growth," said US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

Apec has sharply revised downwards its forecast for economic growth in the region, with the biggest falls in Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and Mexico - due to their dependence on computer exports to the United States.

The average growth of Apec economies is expected to decline this year to less than 1%, compared with 4.1% in 2000, as the region's two biggest economies - the United States and Japan - continue to struggle.

The post-attack slowdown in the US, in particular, "could result in a much deeper and protracted global downturn, especially if it is also associated with lingering structural weaknesses in Japan and some economies in the euro area," Apec's Economic Outlook reported.

It also warned members against attempting to revive their economic prospects by devaluing their currencies, saying this would threaten financial stability.

Apec (the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum) was set up to promote regional free trade, and its members have promised to open trade barriers within the region over the next decade.

Its members produce 44% of total world economic output, and generate more than half of world trade.

The Apec members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

Doubts over Doha

Meanwhile, doubts are surfacing at the meeting about the venue for the world trade talks.

There is growing pressure to move the talks from the Gulf Arab state of Qatar to a less risky venue, such as Singapore or Geneva.

The Apec declaration pointedly omitted any mention of the venue for the trade talks.

And EU trade envoy Pascal Lamy told reporters that Singapore Trade Minister George Yeo "had made no secret" of his country's interest in hosting the conference, set to take place from 9-13 November.

However, Canadian Minister of International Trade Pierre Pettigrew said Doha remained the planned venue for the ministerial talks, which will attempt to revive a trade liberalisation drive abandoned at Seattle in 1999.

"I think our Qatar hosts have been doing an extraordinary job in preparation," Pettigrew told reporters in Shanghai.

But US trade representative Robert Zoellick sounded less definite.

"Our first responsibility is to the security of our delegation and our people, and so it's understandable that the process is going forward to discuss that location," he said.

The Qatar government will reportedly decide later on Thursday whether to go ahead with the meeting, on which they have already spent $30m.

The BBC's Duncan Hewitt
"China has never held such a big international gathering"
Dr Kyung Tae Lee, Apec economic committee chairman
"Restoring market confidence is very urgent"
See also:

09 Sep 01 | Business
Apec agrees anti-recession measures
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