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APEC ends preparatory talks without decision on connectivity target


Senior officials of the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum concluded preparatory talks Wednesday at a beach resort on Indonesia's Bali Island without agreeing on a timeline for the creation of a well-connected region due to differences among economies.

"Ninety-seven percent of the deliverables proposed during the meeting have been on track and only some still need to be sharpened," said Yuri Thamrin, director general for Asia-Pacific and Africa at the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, who presided over the two-day meeting that started Tuesday.

According to Thamrin, one of the deliverables which has not received full support from APEC economies is related to the target of achieving a well-connected Asia-Pacific region.

"Some countries want to set the year 2030 as the targeted timeline for building a comprehensively connected and integrated Asia-Pacific," Thamrin said, adding that such a target will "energize" the whole process.

Some countries, however, refused to endorse the deadline, preferring a flexible, "open-ended" target.

Thamrin did not elaborate which countries are opposed to the timeline, but an APEC source close to the meeting proceedings said Singapore and the United States do not agree with the target.

"Connectivity is a factor that can boost growth and investment, so this issue needs to be resolved," Thamrin said.

The new timeline, if agreed and included in the leaders' declaration, will be 10 years beyond the date set by the Bogor Goals, a declaration signed by the APEC leaders in the West Java town of Bogor in 1994 to free up trade and investment within the region by 2020.

Deny Kurnia, a senior official at Indonesia's Ministry of Trade, said the opposing countries prefer "not to eclipse the Bogor goals by setting a time beyond what the Bogor goals had set."

The leaders' declaration is expected to be issued at the end of the APEC summit on Oct. 8.

The deliverables already endorsed by APEC member economies include support for the multilateral trading system and for achieving concrete results at the forthcoming World Trade Organization ministerial conference that will take place in Bali on Dec. 3-6.

The leaders are expected to issue a stand-alone statement, separate from the leaders' declaration, to reaffirm their commitment to strengthening the multilateral trading system and safeguarding trade expansion to facilitate economic growth, job creation and sustainable development.

In a draft of the stand-alone statement seen by Kyodo News, the leaders are expected to extend by one year -- through the end of 2016 -- a "standstill" commitment made in 2008 to refrain from introducing new barriers to trade and investment.

The WTO Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations has been stalled since 2006, mainly due to differences among major trading nations.

According to the draft joint ministerial statement, APEC ministers will urge for bringing the negotiations to "an early and successful conclusion."

Officials said the current impasse of the Doha Round has weakened the credibility and confidence of the multilateral trading system, according to the draft copy, obtained by Kyodo News.

"We noted that global economic challenges have placed urgency on WTO members to revive and accelerate completion of the negotiations," the ministers say in the draft, calling for the WTO meeting to take "smaller steps" toward an overall conclusion of the Doha Round package.

"To this end, we aspire to achieve practical deliverables to an early harvest package (Bali Package)" at the forthcoming WTO ministerial conference, the ministers say in the draft, referring to a set of deals to support the world's least developed countries.

Another deliverable endorsed by the senior officials is a multiyear plan on infrastructure development and investment in order to improve regional connectivity.

In recent months, investors have withdrawn investment from emerging economies over concerns that the U.S. Federal Reserve was winding down its stimulus program, though it recently decided to continue the program for some time due to the U.S. economy's weak recovery.

The annual APEC summit, slated to begin Monday, will be preceded by a meeting of APEC ministers on Friday and Saturday.

Set up in 1989, APEC is a loose regional grouping that operates on the basis of nonbinding commitments. Its members account for roughly half of the world's economic output.

APEC consists of 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.