US ready to talk tough to get Apec deal

Original Publication Date: 
2 September, 2007

President George W. Bush will seek to breathe fresh life into the stalled Doha round of international trade negotiations during the annual summit of Pacific Rim nations in Sydney this week.

The White House said it was ready to make "tough choices" if other countries were also prepared to offer the concessions necessary to reach a deal after six years of fruitless haggling.

Mr Bush said Doha would be his top economic priority at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit, which brings together 21 countries that together generate half of global trade.

The Apec event coincides with the resumption of Doha negotiations in Geneva this week, after the breakdown of talks in June over agricultural subsidies and tariffs.

Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organisation, is expected to be in Sydney to cajole Apec members - including China, Japan and South Korea - to make another push to complete the Doha round.

Christine Lagarde, French economic minister, last week said she did not expect a global trade deal in the foreseeable future because the divisions among WTO members remained "too wide".

Her comments reflected widespread pessimism about the chances of progress, amid mounting protectionist sentiment in the US and Europe and unresolved differences between rich countries and the developing world.

But Dan Price, deputy US national security advisor for economic affairs, said Mr Bush remained hopeful of successful completion to the Doha round.

"The president understands that this is difficult," he said. "But the administration is prepared to make the tough choices if others are likewise prepared to make those tough choices to create new trade flows."

Mr Price said the US would also use the Apec summit to advance plans launched last year to create a Pacific region free-trade agreement - a deal that would deepen economic integration between North America and East Asia. More than two-thirds of US exports are made to Pacific Rim countries.

With the annual G8 meeting of industrial nations, Apec is one of the two big international summits routinely attended by the US president each year.

Mr Bush arrives in Sydney tomorrow and has meetings planned with several leaders, including President Hu Jintao of China and Shinzo Abe, Japan prime minister, before the main summit next weekend.

In addition to trade, other items on the US agenda include climate change and North Korea.

Mr Bush is under pressure to persuade China to curb carbon emissions after making a commitment in June to take a leadership role in tackling global warming.

No breakthrough is expected this week but the US wants to prepare the ground for progress at a climate change summit it is hosting in Washington later this month.

On North Korea, Mr Bush will seek a united front with Japan, China, Russia and South Korea - all of whose leaders will be in Sydney - ahead of the next round of six-party talks about Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea agreed yesterday to declare and disable all nuclear facilities by the end of the year, as part of a deal in February to abandon its atomic weapons programme. But the US is determined to keep the pressure on Pyongyang to meet the deadline.

Mr Bush is keen for reassurance from Roh Moo-hyun, South Korean president, that his forthcoming bilateral summit with Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, will not undermine the six-party process.

Dennis Wilder, Asia director for the US national security council, said the White House wanted the inter-Korean summit to offer "positive incentives" for North Korea to continue towards denuclearisation. "It's going to be very important to hear from President Roh exactly what he hopes to accomplish in that summit, and how it will advance the six-party process," he said.

The Apec meeting has come at a difficult moment for Mr Bush as he prepares for a fresh battle withCongress over Iraq. He had planned originally to visit Tokyo and Singapore either side of the summit, but those stops were scrapped to reduce time away from Washington.

He will leave Sydney on Saturday, half way through the main two-day summit, to return home in time to deliver a progress report.