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Interest in global trade talks wane in Asia: survey

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- Interest in global trade talks in Asia, especially among the business community, has waned as focus shifts to regional agreements, a survey of Asian powerbrokers said Wednesday.

Only 17.5 percent of respondents in the survey by the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC) think tank believe the stalled Doha World Trade Organization (WTO) talks should be discussed at an annual Asia Pacific summit.

This was down from 52.1 percent in 2007, according to the survey released ahead of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' meeting this weekend in Vladivostok, a port city on Russia's Pacific coast.

“Since 2007, the annual survey of opinion leaders has asked for respondents' views on the top 5 priorities for APEC summit discussions, and without fail the WTO Doha Development Round has been a priority until this year,” PECC said.

The decline was “most pronounced among the business community,” said the PECC, which polled more than 500 corporate executives, senior government officials, central bankers and academics.

Only 10.5 percent of the business executives listed the stalled Doha round of the global trade negotiations as a key agenda for APEC leaders, compared with 25 percent for government officials and 19.7 percent for non-government respondents.

“This finding, while disturbing, should not come of any surprise. For some years, the regional business community has been pushing the idea of a free trade area of the Asia Pacific,” it said.

PECC said the declining interest in the Doha round should spur APEC leaders in Vladivostok to discuss ways to link various proposed regional free trade agreements into a wider zone encompassing both sides of the Pacific Rim, from China to China via the United States.

Among the free-trade initiatives is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) spearheaded by the United States.

Washington has been negotiating details of the potential pact with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Canada and Vietnam. China and Russia, however, are not involved.

Another initiative is the proposed East Asia free trade zone that would cover the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) plus China, Japan and South Korea.

There are proposals to further expand East Asia talks to include India, Australia and New Zealand under a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Launched a decade ago in the Qatari capital, the Doha round of negotiations faltered because developing and developed countries failed to bridge entrenched positions on cutting farm subsidies and lowering industrial tariffs.

PECC co-chair Donald Campbell said the Doha round was not dead, but “it's certainly not in a very good shape.”

He told reporters the business community's perception of the round mirrored their “frustration” at the lack of progress.

“The rise of regional and bilateral agreements is evidence of a declining expectation that we're going to see forward movement,” Campbell said.

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Volunteers walk through a garden in front of the media center of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok, Wednesday, Sept. 5. Russia, which hosts its first annual APEC summit this week, is seeking to assert its presence in the fast-growing region during troubled European economic times. (AFP)

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