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Experts Say Asia-Pacific Summit May Boost Chances For Reviving Global Free Trade Talks - 2003-10-17

The 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC, will try to give the World Trade Organization a basis for reviving global free trade talks. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, or APEC, meeting in Bangkok is shouldering the revival of the failed World Trade Organization (WTO) global trade talks.

The failure of talks in Cancun, Mexico, in September triggered fears of a global wave of protectionism and threatened to choke development in many Pacific Rim countries.

Thai Foreign Ministry Spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow says that if APEC leaders can present a strong, unified point of view by the time the meeting ends, it might help the WTO move ahead with its trade agreements.

"In light of the failure of the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun," he said, "so it was felt that it was all the more important for APEC to send out a strong signal and do whatever it can to help push the trade talks forward and achieve further progress."

Senior leaders attending the forum, overseen by Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, include President Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Hu Jintao, and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

APEC accounts for a diverse range of economies rimming the Pacific Ocean. It brings together regions and nations covering two-point-five billion people and about half the world's total economic output.

New Zealand senior trade negotiator, George Troup, says this diversity can lead to dissension, as it did in the Cancun talks. But he says APEC also carries a lot of clout and can help the WTO get back on track.

… "If they can find common ground among the APEC membership then I think that's a pretty important signal," he said.

The Thai Foreign Ministry's Mr. Sihasak says terrorism will be the next most important topic, with discussions about how APEC members can cooperate to lessen terrorism's impact on trade and investment.

Thailand has spent millions of dollars to blanket its capital with security during the forum. Asia has been plagued with terrorist attacks in the past year, including a terrorist bombing one year ago on the Indonesian of Bali, and more recently a luxury hotel in Jakarta.

The attacks are linked to the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah. The group's operations chief Hambali - also known as Riduan Isamudin - was arrested in Thailand in August.

Bob Broadfoot, managing director of the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, says counter-terrorism measures should be easy to agree on.

"They can probably reach an agreement on is that terrorism is a threat that faces them all… So there are certain sets of types of problems where greater cooperation is needed and they can probably reach some sort of consensus," he said.

APEC was founded in 1989 as an informal gathering of nations sharing borders with the Pacific Ocean. Its mission is boosting trade, investment and business links through free trade agreements and broad-based cooperation.