APEC ministers vow to facilitate trade amid Doha impasse

Posted on June 07, 2012

TRADE MINISTERS in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries appeared to have taken a conservative stance in resolving the Doha Round impasse, committing instead at the end of their meeting to improve side deals, trade facilitation and efforts at establishing its own free trade area.

"While we continue to be disappointed at the impasse in completing all the elements of the Round, our focus in APEC is on the best path forward," a statement released after the 2012 Meeting of APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade in Kazan, Russia on June 4 and 5.

Although urging the World Trade Organization (WTO) to "continue exploring different, fresh, and credible negotiating approaches" to conclude the Doha deal, which is about to enter its 11th year of deadlock in negotiations, APEC Trade ministers also identified "productive areas for ongoing work."

These include trade facilitation, WTO accession of least-developed countries and other "development-related issues."

It particularly noted recent calls for the informal talks on the expansion of product coverage and membership to the WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA), which requires participating countries to lift tariffs on high-tech products. "[We] call on ITA participants to strengthen their engagement in order to achieve a good outcome of the negotiations," the statement said.

It added that an expanded IT agreement will "contribute to the multilateral trading system."

APEC Trade ministers also vowed to "keep markets open," noting its importance on global recovery.

"Taking into account current uncertainties in the global economy and persistent risks of rising protectionist trends in world trade and investment, we remain firmly committed to keeping protectionism at bay and to continue working on initiatives which can contribute to further trade liberalization," the statement said.

This commitment includes refraining from raising new trade barriers and trade-distorting measures, as well as lifting existing measures introduced since the outbreak of the 2008 economic crisis.

The statement also noted the need for "further facilitation, simplification and harmonization of customs procedures in APEC economies to make global trade more predictable, transparent and secure."

The APEC Trade ministers pushed for the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which it claimed is "a step towards more open global as well as regional trade."

"We are committed to the multilateral trading system, and will pursue our own regional economic integration agenda in this spirit," they said in the statement.

The APEC Trade ministers also noted that increased ease of global trade is key to improving global food security and supply chains, which are also the focus of discussion in the meeting.

"[We] reaffirm the value of an open and rules-based multilateral trading system as it provides predictability and stability in agricultural trade," the APEC Trade ministers said.

The group pushed for "science-based standards," to avoid protectionism in agricultural trade.

This, as it noted that APEC economies have made "significant progress in adopting international standards on sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures as well as technical regulations on food safety and quality."

The APEC Trade ministers also highlighted that importance of improving supply chain performance, in terms of reducing the cost, time, and uncertainty of moving goods and services throughout the region.

"[We] instruct officials to further work on deepening understanding, highlight challenges and identify ways to enable businesses to participate in and benefit from global supply chains," the statement said.

"We recognize the importance of minimizing risks to Asia-Pacific supply chain routes, and welcome the work on reliable supply chains, including diversification of supply chain routes," it added. -- Kim Arveen M. Patria