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Hot and cold issues at APEC Summit in Sydney

Updated On: Sep 07, 2007

The issue of climate change is supposed to take centre-stage at the upcoming APEC summit in Sydney if the Australians have their way.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said, “what I think is that climate change is an enormously serious issue and it is absolutely appropriate to discuss it at one of the great multilateral conferences of the year, which is Apec leaders' meetings.”

However, there has not been a consensus. The diplomatic language for not agreeing to further action on tackling climate change is to agree to hand the matter over to the United Nations (UN) for further discussion.  Malaysia’s International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz said that the APEC leaders' summit was not the right forum to discuss climate change.  China also insisted that the issue should be subject to a UN agreement, and most APEC members are expected to line up behind China.

The Jakarta Post has called Australia Prime Minister John Howard’s attempt to include tackling climate change in APEC as an ‘indecent proposal.’ This is because Indonesia will be hosting the UN climate change meeting in Bali in later in December. Minister of Trade Mari Pangestu commented, “Because we're hosting the UNFCCC, we hope that what we will achieve here will be complimentary to processes under the UN, not separate to them.”

Another reason for the difficulty in reaching a consensus on the appropriate action to be taken for climate change is that the host Australia did not seem to have provided a draft text of the leaders’ statement.

Although the issue of whether APEC should tackle climate change (and if so, what kind of actions to take) has dominated the news items on APEC, the issue of membership is also simmering in the background. APEC had adopted a ten year moratorium of membership in 1997.

India has been lobbying for inclusion with the support of the Australians. Australia Trade Minister Warren Truss who says India will add an ‘enormous’ dimension to APEC. However, with ten other countries including Panama and Columbia which have also expressed interest in joining, it is likely that any expansion of membership will include more than India.

Another issue is that of how best to revive the Doha Round. Both Australia and the United States called for China to be more pro-active in finding a break-through on the Doha Round. In response, the Chinese President Hu Jintao blamed the dead-lock on the richer countries, saying, “The major developed members of the WTO should make due efforts for the successful conclusion of the negotiation by demonstrating more sincerity and flexibility on key issues such as reducing agricultural tariffs and subsidies.”

The presence of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) chief Pascal Lamy is unlikely to make much difference. Nonetheless, Lamy said, “What I hope is that the political leaders that are here will provide negotiators with the necessary political capital so that they can, at the right moment, (make) compromises which have not yet appeared materialise on the table.”

With the lack of any significant initiative in the past APEC summits, the bilateral meetings on the sidelines have taken on more importance. President Bush met Chinese President Hu Jintao on the eve of the APEC summit for 90 minutes. Several sensitive issues ranging from food safety to currency reforms to human rights were discussed during the meeting.   Bush assured his counterpart Hu that the focus on food is on safety and not protectionism.  APEC has taken the cue and proposed the setting up of a Task Force on Food Safety to be chaired by China and Australia.  

Hu also oversaw the signing of a 20 year energy agreement between Australian Royal Dutch Shell and Chinese firm, PetroChina International. The energy deal between them involves the sale of liquefied natural gas worth billions of dollars. Hu also visited Western Australia which supplies China with millions of tonnes of nickel, iron ore and other steel-making materials and is described by Hu as ‘an important energy base’ for China.

Singapore and Peru announced the conclusion of the negotiation of their bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).

Indonesian President Yudhoyono would be meeting with President Bush. However, the agenda of the meeting has yet to be confirmed.

APEC has gradually moved away from purely economic issues to embrace wider issues of human security and climate change due to its failure in forging consensus in the former. APEC’s previous ‘Bogor goals’ of free trade by 2010 for industrialised economies and by 2020 for developing member nations seems to have been set aside.  In the words of the ministers, APEC free trade area is unlikely to take off in the foreseeable future and is only a “long term prospect”. (7 September 2007)

Sources:

Leaders discuss sensitive issue (Today, 7 September 2007)

China, West headed for clash over global warming (Straits Times, 7 September 2007)

APEC taskforce on food safety to be set up (Straits Times, 7 September 2007)

West worried India would tip APEC power balance: official (Agence France Presse, 6 September 2007)

Australia says India would make "enormous" APEC contribution (Australian Associated Press Financial News Wire, 6 September 2007)

White House:Yuan Reform Alone Won't Solve US-China Trade Woes (Dow Jones, 6 September 2007)

China calls for 'sincerity' from developed nations on trade talks (Agence France Presse, 6 September 2007)

Include climate issues in Apec meet (New Straits Times, 6 September 2007)

APEC unlikely to revive stalled WTO talks (Jakarta Post, 6 September 2007)

Bush, Howard try to steal the APEC show (Jakarta Post, 6 September 2007)

Australian Exporters Want Fewer Apec Trade Barriers (Bernama, 5 September 2007)

Singapore and Peru reach free trade deal (Straits Times, 5 September 2007)

Wither Apec? (Straits Times, 5 September 2007)

Officials in a stew over climate change strategy (Straits Times, 5 September 2007)

Hu witnesses signing of major energy pact (Straits Times, 5 September 2007)

UN Still The Ultimate Body To Deal With Climate Change, Says Downer (Bernama, 5 September 2007)

Yudhoyono, Bush To Meet In Sydney (Jakarta Post, 5 September 2007)

Malaysia Livens Up Climate Change Debate Ahead Of APEC Leaders' Meet (Bernama, 4 September 2007)