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Free Trade is Key to Economic Recovery, say APEC Ministers - 2003-06-04


Trade officials from the Pacific Rim say better trade agreements can boost their region's economy while helping the faltering global economy.

Ministers from the 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC, say new regional and bilateral free trade agreements are needed to bring the world's economies out of the doldrums.

The leaders, speaking at a recent meeting in Thailand, say they fear the World Trade Organization might fall short on commitments to open up trade when its members meet in Cancun, Mexico, in a few months.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says APEC ministers want reforms from the WTO, especially in agriculture. "I think it's one more step in an effort to build momentum for a successful meeting at Cancun [Mexico] in September for the WTO," said Mr. Zoellick.

Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile said that beyond regional considerations, the broader issue is that free trade agreements can help the flagging international economy get back on its feet.

"A successful outcome of the Cancun meeting ... would give the global economy a significant boost and a significant injection of confidence," said Mr. Vaile. "And that's the message we also need to send: that the global economy needs a positive outcome."

The ministers expressed support for two bilateral free trade agreements under negotiation between the United States and Thailand and Australia. The United States recently signed such an agreement with Singapore.

Malaysia's trade minister, Rafidah Aziz, says bilateral trade agreements can benefit economies, but adds that bilateral deals should not come at the expense of multilateral trading.