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Climate Change, Trade to Top APEC Agenda

Climate change and trade liberalizations are expected to top the agenda at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering in Sydney this week. Regional security also will be addressed. But, as VOA correspondent Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from Jakarta, there is bound to be dissension on several of these issues among the 21 members of APEC.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, the chairman of the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Sydney, has placed climate change at the top of the agenda.

Mr. Howard says he hopes to use the APEC leaders summit on September 8 and 9 to create a new approach to fighting global warming, one that avoids setting pollution emission targets.

Australia and the United States are the only developed nations that have refused to implement the Kyoto Protocol. The more than 160 countries that ratified the pact have agreed to try to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases thought to contribute to global warming.

However, only 36 developed countries are required to cut emissions. Developing nations, including economic powerhouses China, India and Brazil do not have to make mandatory cuts. Washington and Canberra have argued that mandatory caps only for developed nations are unfair and could be economically damaging.

Emmy Hafidz, the Southeast Asia director of the international environmental organization Greenpeace, says Mr. Howard's proposal is unlikely to go far enough to solve the problem.

"It's kind of ironic. They are saying that they realize that climate change is coming, but I think the two countries - Australia and the United States - still do not want to acknowledge their mistakes, not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol," Hafidz said. "And actually U.S. and Australia, they have a plan to have their own initiative to reduce CO2. It's a double standard. They want to talk about it, but they don't want to do anything [about] their own country. And it's very unacceptable, I think."

John McKay, the director of the Australian APEC Study Center at Monash University in Melbourne, says another topic high up on the list for discussion will be the stalled Doha round of talks under the World Trade Organization, or WTO.

"I think there's going to be a lot of interest in trying to develop a way in which APEC can push these negotiations along," McKay said. "APEC members have more than 50 percent of the world's trade and so they're quite a large pressure group and I think there's going to be a lot of interest in the WTO."

The WTO's Doha development round is aimed at cutting trade barriers to help developing nations prosper from expanding global trade.

But the talks have stalled over disagreements on cutting barriers for agriculture, industrial goods and services.

McKay says the APEC members also will focus on regional economic integration, and discussions are expected to start laying the groundwork for a vast trans-Pacific free trade area.

"The way in which APEC can perhaps make up for the lack of progress at the multi-lateral level and that will include discussions of a possible free trade area of APEC which would link together all of the APEC economies," McKay said.

But McKay warns there is likely to be dissension on the major issues.

"In the trade agenda, the continued debate of access for agricultural products into North Asia, particularly into Japan and South Korea will be a sticking point…. I think there's sticking points in terms of security agenda. There's been some attempts in the past to, for example, look at the North Korea issue within APEC," McKay said. "There is always differences between the United States and China in various kinds of security issues."

Yao Shunli from the China Center for Economic Research in Beijing says the recent turmoil in the world's financial markets also concerns APEC leaders.

"They worry about it, especially for the Asia Pacific region, for China, for ASEAN, for Japan, so this is a production chain in Asia. They produce goods for American markets and if there's a financial crisis there, especially in America, certainly Asia will be affected," Yao said.

McKay says while it is hard to get 21 governments from such vast different cultures to agree on everything, it is still worthwhile to hold the annual APEC meetings.

"I think talkfests by themselves are often very useful," McKay said. "I think bringing together the leaders of 21 major economies is not something to be dismissed very lightly. I think we need to talk about a whole range of issues. APEC's major contribution at the moment I think is in this leadership level so there is going to be, I hope, a lot of useful output from the APEC meetings in Sydney."

The APEC gathering begins Sunday, with senior officials from the member governments meeting. Throughout the week, there will be gatherings of international business leaders and economic ministers. Then on September 8 and 9, the leaders of the member economies hold their summit.

In addition, Australian Prime Minister Howard will host President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a three-nation summit to discuss regional security.