Sat, Nov 19, 2005 - Page 1 News List

APEC leaders to push for compromise on farm talks


Leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region held a summit yesterday to give new impetus to deadlocked trade talks and the fight against bird flu, as police clashes with protesters turned violent.

The 21 APEC leaders and representatives -- including US President George W. Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) -- are meeting in South Korea for two days to discuss pressing global issues.

As well as appealing for intensive efforts to ensure the success of the Dec. 13-18 WTO talks in Hong Kong, the leaders will address bird flu, terrorism, North Korea and energy security.

As the motorcades of the presidents and prime ministers swept into the high-tech BEXCO exhibition center in Busan, around 10,000 farmers and anti-globalization protesters gathered nearby.

Chanting anti-US slogans and waving colorful banners reading "No APEC, No Bush" and "Terrorist Bush Go Home," the crowd, some armed with metal pipes, long bamboo sticks and bottles, faced off with thousands of riot police ringing the center.

"We want to hurt them and we want them to hurt us," a farmer from just north of the port city said, as he brandished a weighty 3m-long bamboo stick, his face masked with a red handkerchief and his breath smelling of South Korean rice wine.

On two occasions hundreds of hardcore protesters tried to break through a make-shift police barricade of ocean-liner cargo containers to reach bridges over the Suyeong River to reach the APEC meeting, triggering violent clashes and volleys of water cannon loaded with seawater which left several people injured.

APEC countries account for nearly 60 percent of global trade, and the leaders were to issue a statement today calling for compromises on farm subsidies to prevent the so-called Doha round of WTO talks from collapsing.

"Unless progress is made in this area, we cannot make progress in the round as a whole," a draft of the statement states.

"Avoiding or compromising our ambition on this issue would mean we would lower expectations for the round as a whole," the draft continues..

Asia-Pacific nations have become embroiled in an acrimonious war of words with the EU, and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said yesterday that APEC felt it was up to the EU to make a new offer on agriculture.

"They are basically saying that now the ball is in Europe's court and they are asking for a very active and flexible attitude in negotiations from the Europeans," Ban said after the first session of talks.

He said the group's leaders would sign off on the "very strong message" today that the Hong Kong WTO meeting cannot be allowed to fail. But calls by Australia and Canada to harden the statement were rebuffed, Ban said.

The EU has refused to match a US offer on cutting farm subsidies, instead making a "bottom line" offer earlier this month to cut the bloc's overall tariff rate from 23 percent to 12 percent.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has this week rebuffed APEC pressure and insisted Europe would not be making a new offer.

Bird flu is also an urgent topic which will be addressed today.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard flagged a new Canberra initiative in a speech here and made thinly-veiled criticism of Thailand, China and Vietnam for being slow to report the extent of outbreaks in 2003 and last year.

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