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Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010

Ministers unite against new trade barriers

Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — Foreign and trade ministers meeting in Yokohama on Wednesday agreed to fend off protectionism by extending an existing ban on new trade barriers among member states by at least three years, until 2013.

The Pacific Rim ministers, meeting for two days ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit starting Saturday, also affirmed the need to conclude stalled World Trade Organization talks on opening global markets by the end of 2011, as key elections are scheduled in major member states in 2012, a Japanese diplomat in Yokohama said.

Japan has not hosted an APEC summit since the 1995 gathering in Osaka.

APEC leaders, meeting for two days in Yokohama, are expected to map out a common growth strategy, the first of its kind for the forum.

According to Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, the participants also agreed in principle to push for a conclusion to a U.S-led free-trade agreement covering all the 21 APEC member economies, known as the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a smaller free-trade framework being pushed by some APEC countries, can be a useful step toward the wider FTAAP, Maehara suggested.

"We have reaffirmed the need to create a path to FTAAP," Maehara said after the meeting, which he cochaired with trade minister Akihiro Ohata.

APEC ministers were informed that Tokyo has endorsed the basic principle for the economic partnership and will begin consulting with nations trying to build the TPP, Maehara said.

"This is on condition that we will work on domestic issues" to compensate farmers who are opposed to opening up the agricultural sector, he said.

In the principle endorsed by the Cabinet Tuesday, Japan failed to declare its intention to join the TPP due to strong opposition from Democratic Party of Japan members.

Ministers also discussed the five pillars of APEC's growth strategy — balanced growth, inclusive growth, sustainable growth, innovative growth and growth on security, he said.

In an apparent reference to China's export ban on rare earths to Japan, Maehara said he noted the need to discuss export bans on natural resources and food products, not just import bans. That ban was unofficially imposed amid a diplomatic row over a run-in between a Chinese fishing boat and Japan Coast Guard vessels.

WTO Director General Pascal Lamy, who briefed ministers on the Doha Round, noted the importance of gearing up talks on the troubled trade-negotiation round undertaken by the WTO in 2001.

At Wednesday's session, most member states touched on the importance of completing the talks by the end of 2011, the Japanese official who briefed reporters said.

To achieve this, many ministers noted the necessity of granting negotiators stronger mandates and political support, the official said.

The APEC members are Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Russia, Taiwan, the United States, and seven Association of Southeast Asian Nations members — Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Information from Kyodo added

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The Japan Times

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