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APEC Finance Ministers Vow to Help Restart Global Trade Talks

  • Matt Steinglass

Finance ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum have resolved to work toward restarting long-stalled global free trade talks and redressing trade imbalances. Matt Steinglass has more from Hanoi, where the 21-members of APEC have concluded their annual financial meeting.

APEC finance ministers in Hanoi Friday pledged to throw their weight behind reviving global talks on liberalizing international commerce.

The finance minister of host country Vietnam, Vu Van Ninh, announced the joint statement at the end of the two-day meeting.

Ninh calls for APEC members to restart the Doha talks in the interest of helping the developing world.

The so-called Doha round of World Trade Organization negotiations aimed to standardize international trade and tariff rules by specific dates. But entrenched disputes over how to free up trade without unduly hurting development repeatedly deadlocked talks in the past year.

The Doha round - missing most key deadlines - collapsed in July. The key sticking point was over subsidies wealthy nations pay to their farmers, making it hard for developing nations to compete in agricultural markets.

Australian Finance Minister Peter Costello says the Doha goals are the best way to achieve global free trade.

"If we are to realize our aim of free trade between developed countries by 2010 and developing countries by 2020, free trade and free movement of capital flow is absolutely critical," he said.

The collapse of the Doha negotiations had led to concern that regional trading blocs might supplant the WTO and derail the global free trade agenda.

APEC ministers also promised to reduce global economic imbalances, especially through greater exchange rate flexibility.

The United States has criticized fellow APEC member China for keeping its currency artificially low to make its exports cheaper. Washington, along with other governments that have huge trade deficits with China, has pressed Beijing to loosen controls over the yuan exchange rate.

But China's finance minister, Jin Renqing, repeated Beijing's stance Friday that moves toward letting markets determine the yuan's value would be gradual.

Jin says that since China's economy accounts for less than five percent of global GDP, the fixed exchange rate of the yuan is not a major source of global economic imbalances.

The ministers also discussed how to restrict financing to terrorists. They reaffirmed general commitments but did not include in their closing statement language on cutting off money for weapons of mass destruction, as sought by the United States.

The 21 APEC members account for almost half of world trade.

The two-day finance ministers meeting is intended to set the agenda for the leaders' summit in November in Hanoi.

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