The head of the World Trade Organization has set the tone for two days of trade talks among Asian and Pacific nations, saying timely action and political will are needed to drop barriers to global trade.
WTO chief Supachai Panitchpakdi is calling for clarity on trade issues from Asian and Pacific governments to help finalize a new global trade treaty by the end of this year. "We need clear political guidance, and we need it as urgently as possible," he said.
Mr. Supachai was speaking as delegates from the 21 members of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, or APEC, gathered Thursday on the South Korean island of Jeju. The trade officials held dozens of informal conferences and bilateral meetings aimed at advancing trade liberalization goals their governments agreed to in Doha in 2001.
Mr. Supachai says the delegates had to move beyond technical analysis, and make offers to each other that reflect the urgency of completing the so-called Doha round of trade talks by 2006. The Doha Development Agenda calls for further liberalization of trade in several areas, such as agriculture and services.
"And if we miss the chance to complete the round by 2006, it will be very difficult to complete the round in the foreseeable future, because people will begin to have their own doubts, and they might lose interest," he said.
Mr. Supachai wants APEC nations to put less effort into forming bilateral and regional free trade agreements, and instead focus on the global goals spelled out in the Doha agenda.
Mr. Supachai explicitly did not comment on some of the trade disputes simmering at the APEC meeting - particularly the current debate over textiles involving China, the United States and the European Union.
Since global textile quotas expired in January, Chinese garment exports have surged, causing job losses in the United States and Europe.
Chinese Commerce Minister Bo Xilai defended his country's booming trade, telling reporters at the Jeju conference China is doing nothing wrong. He meets with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Portman Friday.
Together, APEC nations account for about half of global trade. By some estimates, successful negotiation of the Doha trade liberalization goals would add as much as $3 trillion to the world economy.