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APEC Foreign Ministers Discourage Protectionism

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Foreign ministers at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum say they want to discourage trade protectionism. Business leaders at the gathering endorsed that idea and urged more open trade and investment to sustain the global economic recovery.

Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo says during informal discussions, APEC foreign ministers touched on the financial crisis, economic coordination, and financial reforms. But he says the most important topic on the table was resisting trade protectionism.

"There's creeping protectionism now," he said. "That is very dangerous. It is a slippery slope. And, [if] we're not careful, before we know it all of us will be in a much more dire situation."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said the foreign ministers also discussed the importance of expanding trade and making it more sustainable and inclusive.

Representatives from the Asia-Pacific business community called on APEC economies to further open trade and investment and resist the urge to erect trade barriers.

The APEC Business Advisory Council says the greatest concerns are that rising unemployment and weak demand could lead some governments to introduce protectionist measures and subsidies that distort trade.

Teng Theng Dar is the council's chairman. He says Asia-Pacific businesses want to see a conclusion next year to the Doha round of world trade negotiations, which have been stalled for more than seven years.

"This is a time where [the] business community looks for specific concrete moves by the government so that we are able to build confidence and bring confidence back to the system and at the same time we'll be able to help promote more trade and investment," Teng said. "Trade and investment are key to the recovery of the economy."

The business council says it is also time for start work on setting a timeline for establishing an APEC free trade agreement.

Secretary Clinton says foreign ministers also talked about security issues, including North Korea's nuclear program and the new U.S. policy of dialogue with Burma's military government.

APEC national leaders, including President Barack Obama, will be in Singapore for their annual summit on Sunday.

Mr. Obama is on his first trip to Asia as president and will hold the first U.S. summit with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on the sidelines of the APEC meetings.

APEC is made up of 21 Pacific Rim economies, which account for about half of world trade.