APEC host says WTO and trade row scuppered joint declaration

By AFP   November 23, 2018 | 07:52 pm PT
APEC host says WTO and trade row scuppered joint declaration
For the first time ever, APEC leaders failed to produce a joint declaration. Photo by AFP/Saeed Khan
The host of a fractious Asia-Pacific summit said Friday that "alternative" views on free trade and WTO rules prevented members from agreeing a joint communique.

In a chairman's statement following last weekend's summit, Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O'Neill said members had been unable to agree on sections concerning reform of the World Trade Organization, and also protectionism.

"Most economies agreed to the following text, while a small number had alternative or additional views on paragraphs 9, 16 and 17," said O'Neill.

The highlighted paragraphs included a commitment to "improve the functioning of the WTO" by working "together to improve its negotiating, monitoring and dispute settlement functions."

Another urged economies "to advance trade in the region in a free, fair, and open manner, in a way that will support non-discriminatory, and mutually advantageous trade and investment frameworks.

During the summit, Chinese president Xi Jinping had lashed out at U.S. trade protectionism, saying it was a "short-sighted approach" that was "doomed to failure."

Sources said going into the meeting the United States had pressed for the leaders to issue what amounted to a denunciation of the WTO and a call for its wholesale reform -- a step too far for Beijing, which would likely get less preferential treatment under any changes.

O'Neill wrote that his own statement "reflects the full discussion, including areas where member economies did not reach full consensus."

The annual gathering, held for the first time in Papua New Guinea, was overshadowed by speeches from Xi and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, which appeared to represent competing bids for regional leadership.

Pence warned smaller countries not to be seduced by China's massive Belt-and-Road infrastructure programme, mocking Beijing's "constricting belt" and "one-way road" initiative.

For the first time ever, the leaders failed to produce a joint declaration -– usually a technocratic exercise in fudging differences, overstating agreement and promising great things to come.

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