WTO chief Pascal Lamy said yesterday that he would pass on a "loud and clear" call from key Asia-Pacific nations for an urgent resumption of talks on tearing down trade barriers.
The WTO director-general met with ministers at the APEC forum in Hanoi to share views on how to resume the world trade body's so-called Doha round of negotiations as soon as possible.
Speaking at a business lunch, he said "all ministers expressed a sense of urgency, and joined in calling for a rapid restart of the negotiating engines in Geneva."
Lamy said he would leave Hanoi late yesterday to convey the message to WTO members.
"I will be leaving tonight in order to check with the membership at large tomorrow morning in Geneva that this view, which I got loud and clear from APEC ministers this morning, is shared by all the members in Geneva," he said.
The Doha round, which began in the Qatari capital at the end of 2001, aims to reduce subsidies, tariffs and other barriers to commerce and raising living standards in developing countries.
But the talks have been riven by disputes between rich and poor countries, as well as among wealthy players, over what concessions are required.
Lamy urged the business community to lobby governments to be more flexible, warning that corporations too would be victims if the talks collapse.
An agreement at the weekend APEC summit on a way to revive the talks could help move them forward, despite the absence of the EU and other important players such as India and Brazil, said Chris DeCure, chairman of APEC's Committee on Trade and Investment.
"I think we'll see some very important outcomes," DeCure said. "Progress on the Doha round is our No. 1 priority, there is no question about that."
WTO members want to conclude negotiations before US President George W. Bush's authority to negotiate a trade deal that can be submitted to Congress for a simple yes-or-no vote without amendments expires in the middle of next year.
Meanwhile, the top US trade diplomat said yesterday that her country and the EU must cut farm subsidies and all economies have to open their markets to revitalize global free trade talks.
US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said saving the Doha round was the main focus this week's APEC gathering.
"No single country, no single group of countries, will be able to unilaterally put the Doha round back on track," she said. "Artificial deadlines will not do the trick, high-profile ministerials will not do the trick."
"The only thing that will get the Doha round back on track is if all of the key players -- and these are developed and developing countries alike -- are willing to stretch beyond where they were in July," she said.
She conceded that "the European Union and the United States in particular need to address and do more in terms of reducing trade distorting subsidies" in the contentious agriculture sector.
But she also called on all other WTO nations to reciprocate and further open their markets in a variety of sectors.
"Unless and until there is significant market access on the table in agriculture, in manufacturing, in services ... it would be impossible to achieve new trade flows and therefore impossible to achieve global economic growth and the alleviation of poverty that is at the core of the Doha Development Agenda," she said.