Chinese President Hu Jintao said on Thursday that Beijing took product safety very seriously, as Asia Pacific ministers agreed to set up a food safety taskforce to ensure the health and safety of the region's population.
Australian Trade Minister Warren Truss said the taskforce, chaired by China and Australia, was not aimed at Beijing which has been grappling with a series of product recalls in a number of countries, ranging from toys to toothpaste.
We are not targeting China, but we do expect goods that come into Australia to be safe, Truss told a news conference at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Sydney.
Hu told U.S. President George W. Bush in talks in Sydney that Beijing took the issue of product safety very seriously, said a senior White House official.
The two leaders discussed new inter-agency structures of China, revisions to their laws and regulations and enhanced enforcement and inspection being undertaken by China, he said.
President Bush welcomed these developments, explained U.S. concerns on safety, underscoring that the safety issue was not trade protectionism and that both sides needed to continue to work together, said Dan Price, Bush's deputy national security adviser for international economic development.
President Hu expressed his welcome for expanded cooperation on the safety issue, Price told reporters at a briefing.
APEC trade and foreign ministers issued a statement on Thursday saying they recognized the need to improve food safety to ensure the health and safety of our populations.
The ministers announced the establishment of the APEC Food Safety Cooperation Forum, co-chaired by China and Australia.
We agree to develop a more robust and strategic approach to strengthening, prioritizing and coordinating regional food safety, said the ministerial statement.
The ministers also said they had recommended that the 21 APEC leaders, who will hold a summit in Sydney this weekend, should issue a stand-alone statement on world free trade talks.
A successful conclusion with an ambitious and balanced outcome, provides the best means for sustaining economic growth, they said.
Truss said he welcomed a strong statement by Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday calling on developed nations to be more flexible in trade talks, but urged Bejing to make concessions to help ensure a conclusion to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Geneva.
In the past China has tended to take the view that as a recently ascended WTO member little or nothing should be expected of China in the way of new concessions., Truss told reporters.
I trust China's new commitment ... will also include a willingness to go to the table and be prepared to make an appropriate range of concessions to help achieve a satisfactory outcome.
The APEC ministers agreed to work towards further regional economic integration, but paid only lip service to a free trade zone, saying it was a long term prospect.
We agree a lot of work still needs to be done before we can say that an Asia free trade zone is feasible, Truss said.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said human security was a major focus of discussion. The ministers said terrorism remained a persistent, evolving and long-term threat to our prosperity and the security of our people.
A study in Singapore found that the impact on APEC economies from a major terrorist attack would be $137 billion in lost GDP and $159 billion in reduced trade, said the ministers.
(Additional reporting by Jalil Hamid and Matt Spetalnick in Sydney)