Ministers and officials from the 21 Asia and Pacific Rim economies continue their work in Santiago, Chile, in preparation for the two-day summit of leaders from APEC - the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. The summit opens Saturday. Participants report progress inside the meeting site, but protesters on the outside are expressing their dissatisfaction with the entire process.
Security is tight around the APEC meeting site and around hotels and other spots in the city where participants gather. On Wednesday, police clashed with student protesters in downtown Santiago, arresting over 100 people and using water cannon to disperse others. Police say the protesters had not obtained permission for their march and that they were violating the law by blocking traffic.
Anti-globalization groups and various other political organizations are planning a much larger march on Friday. Some groups are also targeting President Bush and the war in Iraq in their demonstrations. Mr. Bush will join other leaders from APEC member economies here Saturday.
Meanwhile, trade ministers taking part in the preliminary discussions report progress towards developing a framework for negotiations that would eventually create a free trade area in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia's Trade Minister, Mark Vaile, says delegates are also looking beyond their region and supporting the effort to get the World Trade Organization's latest round of talks back on track.
"The mood in the meeting is very upbeat and positive as far as the WTO is concerned," Mr. Vaile said. "Of course, we achieved a significant outcome this July of this year in agreeing on a framework to move ahead in the round. In looking forward to the Hong Kong ministerial meeting next year, there is a lot of work that needs to be done in advance of that to ensure that that is successful in looking at concluding the round by 2005 or 2006."
The last WTO summit, in Cancun, Mexico in September, 2003, ended without agreement and thereby set back the proposed schedule for achieving a comprehensive world trade pact.
Since that time, many nations have moved ahead with bilateral agreements, some of which sidestep the more general principles of the larger international trade organizations. On Wednesday, Mr. Vaile announced an agreement between the United States and Australia to start working under a free trade agreement in January of next year.
The Australian trade minister says such bilateral agreements do not undermine the WTO or APEC, and can serve as building blocks within both organizations as long as they adhere to basic principles.
"There is a view that unless you have high-quality and comprehensive agreements they may be trade diversionary," added Mr. Vaile. "For them to be building blocks, they do need to be comprehensive in nature and they do need to be of a high quality. I think that all ministers here would agree that if we are to establish benchmarks within APEC, that we should have that in mind."
One small point of discord emerged here, not in the ministerial meetings, but in the adjacent hall where participants and mass media representatives mingle. The Taiwanese delegation, known within APEC as "Chinese Taipei," is using this meeting to promote business and cultural affairs with other APEC members, in part, through a series of videotapes, which were being shown in the main hall. But representatives of China objected to a line in the videos that referred to Taiwan as a nation. Beijing regards the island as a province and has strongly objected to any international recognition of Taiwan as an independent country.
Chinese Taipei delegation spokesman David Lee says APEC officials asked him to remove the word nation from the videos.
"They asked us to do editing, or eliminate the word 'nation' and I refused," said Mr. Lee.
Instead, he says, his delegation decided to remove the videos from further showing. Mr. Lee says use of the word nation was not meant to imply independence, but was, rather, a reference to Taiwan's culture and people. He says it was unfair to ask an APEC member to alter such a presentation.
"It is easy for us, technically, to take out that part, or change it through editing," he noted. "It takes less than 20 minutes to do it. But, it is the principle. We are equal, full members of APEC."
APEC is one of the few international organizations in which Taiwan participates, because Beijing has objected to its presence in the United Nations, the World Health Organization and other entities. Taiwan is often called an "Asian tiger" because it has one of the strongest economies in the world. Taiwan maintains trade relations with over 100 nations, but has formal diplomatic relations with only a handful of countries.