Pacific rim trade ministers pushed for a revival of stalled world trade talks on Friday, but committed themselves to work towards setting up their own trade bloc if a global deal fails.
Ministers from the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group agreed that a successful conclusion to the Doha round of talks, which aim to free up world trade, remained the best way to promote economic development.
All of us are of one mind to really get the talks moving forward in the months ahead, Malaysian Trade and Industry Minister Rafidah Aziz said at the end of a two-day meeting in the Australian city of Cairns.
The World Trade Organization's (WTO) latest round of trade negotiations was launched in Qatar's capital, Doha, nearly six years ago with the aim of freeing up world trade, boosting global growth and lifting millions of people out of poverty.
But the future of the Doha round is in serious doubt after G4 talks between the United States, the European Union, Brazil and India collapsed over how much developing nations should open up to farm and manufactured imports, and how much Europe and the U.S. support their farmers.
The U.S. has warned that a successful Doha deal could be delayed several years if there is no progress by the end of 2007.
But Australian Trade Minister Warren Truss, who chaired the APEC meeting, ruled out using APEC as a WTO negotiating block, saying the future of the Doha round now relied on multinational negotiations through the WTO in Geneva.
I don't imagine we envision setting up any more Gs, Truss said. There will be no G-APEC.
While APEC ministers strongly supported reviving the Doha talks, there were major differences between ministers in Cairns.
Mexico's undersecretary for trade negotiations, Beatriz Leycegui Gardoqui, said she had hoped the APEC meeting would offer stronger support for a middle-ground proposal proposed by Mexico in Geneva after the G4 talks collapsed.
We were hoping to see something more specific in the declaration, she said.
Mexico's plan, supported by fellow APEC members Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Peru and Chile, includes a compromise formula for reducing tariffs on industrial goods, with slower cuts for developing nations.
The United States has blamed India and Brazil for the stalled world trade talks, but Indonesia, which heads a group of 33 developing nations, said it was up to Washington and Europe to show more leadership.
Why should the onus be put on developing countries? Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said in an interview published in the Australian Financial Review on Friday.
Some of the major developed countries we think should show leadership by indicating where their bottom lines are.
The APEC ministers agreed to do more work towards a Free Trade Area for Asia Pacific, in line with APEC's 1994 declaration in Bogor, Indonesia, of free trade among developed economies by 2010 and developing economies by 2020.
But APEC ministers did not set specific proposals on how to reach the trade goal in a region that accounts for 60 percent of global economic activity and half of the world's trade.
It is still seen as a long-term prospect, Truss said.