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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 13:56 GMT
Apec seeks trade talk flexibility
The US's Condoleezza Rice and Rob Portman at the Apec meeting
The US's Rob Portman thinks the EU has not stopped negotiating
Pacific Rim trade and foreign ministers have ended two days of meetings with a call for more flexibility to break an impasse in ongoing global trade talks.

Following their meeting in South Korea, they pulled short of blaming the European Union for the ongoing impasse in the World Trade Organisation talks.

But they want their own Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders to take the lead on the discussions.

George W Bush and the other 20 Apec heads meet in South Korea on Friday.

French pressure

The issue of farm subsidies and import tariffs is currently holding back efforts to reach a new global free trade agreement, with most nations blaming the European Union (EU).

I'm confident that the European Union is not done negotiating [on global trade] because it's just too important
Rob Portman, US trade representative

The EU is being told to make more cuts, but it has said it can go no further in the face of strong pressure from member states such as France, which want to protect their large agricultural communities.

The timetable of the current Doha round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks calls for an outline trade agreement to be in place for rubber stamping at its December ministerial meeting in Hong Kong.

The EU has already said this will not be possible and that talks will have to continue into 2006.

Ongoing efforts

After the two days of talks with his Apec colleagues, US trade representative Rob Portman said that trade negotiations would continue with Europe ahead of the Hong Kong meeting.

"I'm confident that the European Union is not done negotiating because it's just too important," he said.

Yet he admitted things were well behind schedule.

"We hoped to have much more of a road map in Hong Kong," he said.

"All of us had hoped that we would have been further along."

Oil pressure

The Apec trade ministers also released a number of economic figures on Wednesday.

They predict that the Apec economies will grow by an average 3.5% in 2005, down from 4.5% in 2004, because of higher oil prices and increased US interest rates.

Although they did not give a specific forecast for 2006, they expect Apec economies to grow by an average 3.6% between 2006 and 2010.

The combined 21 Apec economies, from the US to Japan, China and Australia, represent 57% of the world economy.


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