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Mon, Nov 21, 2005 - Page 12 News List

APEC trade push begins to unravel

OPTING OUT APEC members signed a statement calling for deep cuts to farm subsidies to spur WTO talks, but some are already threatening to break ranks


After pointing a collective finger of blame at Europe over farm subsidies, cracks were emerging yesterday in the show of unity by Asia-Pacific leaders on free trade.

The 21 members of the APEC forum issued a statement here on Saturday demanding deep cuts in EU farm subsidies.

They said that Europe's refusal to make concessions threatened to derail WTO talks scheduled for Hong Kong next month.

But by yesterday, Japan had already threatened to break ranks and take a pragmatic stand alongside Europe in the subsidies dispute in Hong Kong.

"APEC is APEC, WTO is WTO," said a Japanese official, adding: "We are still willing to join hands with the EU on a necessary basis during the WTO meeting in Hong Kong next month."

European trade officials are upset at the finger-pointing from the Asia-Pacific body, some of whose members operate more lavish protectionist systems than the EU.

Japan and South Korea offer massive support to their farmers, and neither looks ready to make the kind of concessions APEC wants from Europe, the European officials say.

Some APEC members, aware of the contradictions, have been calling on their own members to fall in line on the issue of subsidy reduction.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard grouped the EU and Japan, as well as others he declined to mention by name, together when he called for farm subsidy cuts here.

"I think, of course, of the European Union in particular. I think also of Japan and of others that have high levels of agricultural protection," he said here on Friday.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin had also singled out Japan. But Tokyo plans to dig in its heels, according to a Japanese official.

"We will give way if we have to do so, but we should protect what we have to protect," the official said.

Japan and South Korea are members of the Group of 10 countries seeking to protect their farmers against pressure for liberalization in the WTO talks.

South Korea's 3.6 million farmers are among the most protected in the world. They are currently fighting an accord that opens South Korea's rice markets just a fraction, allowing imports to take up 8 percent of consumption.

Violent protests erupted in the streets here in Busan as 12,000 farmers marched against the deal during the APEC summit.

Some 1,500 farmers are planning to travel to Hong Kong to demonstrate at the WTO meeting next month. They want South Korea to stand shoulder to shoulder with the EU against the opening of agricultural markets.

"The EU and South Korea are on the same side," said Bae Hung-taeg, the head of the League of South Korean farmers.

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