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Failed WTO Talks on Agenda as APEC Forum Begins - 2003-10-20

Leaders of APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum have begun two-days of meetings today in Thailand with efforts to revive the stalled World Trade Organization talks. But terrorism and security issues are drawing a great deal of attention - to the dismay of some delegates.

Leaders of the 21-member APEC forum are studying a draft final communiqué identifying terrorism as a severe threat to stable economic growth. In the document, they pledge to take all essential actions to dismantle transnational terrorist groups - including greater sharing of intelligence, securing ports and blocking terror financing.

However, some leaders have expressed concern that the focus on terror is drawing attention away from trade issues - particularly how to revive World Trade Organization talks which derailed last month in Mexico. At issue was the divide between rich and poor nations - particularly over protection for agricultural products.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says developing nations need some protection to compete with large, multinational corporations that dominate the global economy. "We would want to see fairer trade, not so much free trade as fair trade. We must have fair trade because fair trade means our own weaknesses will be taken into consideration," he says.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark suggests the way to overcome the issue of free versus fair trade is to focus on points of agreement rather than points of dispute.

"I think there was some very useful progress in Cancun, on agriculture. Towards the end of the meeting, I understand the EU [European Union] offered to take competition and investment off the table," says Ms. Clarke. "That would also help talks to carry on. In other words, I think we need to focus on where we did get movement and pick up from there."

In the draft communiqué, the APEC leaders are to pledge to revive the world trade talks in a way that better integrates disadvantaged people - like minorities, women and youth - into the global economy.

APEC has no formal relationship with the WTO - charged with setting global trade rules. But APEC groups some of the biggest WTO members and accounts for more than half of the global economy.

Pacific Rim leaders are to also pledge to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles by enforcing more stringent export controls. And they pledge to better coordinate responses to bioterrorism threats and infectious disease like SARS, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome that crippled the travel and tourism industry in Asia earlier this year.