Sunday, July 29, 2007

Zoellick Premieres This APEC

World Bank President Robert Zoellick is expected to be the star turn at a meeting in Australia this week of finance ministers from 21 Asia-Pacific countries, officials said Sunday.

Zoellick is in his first month as head of the World Bank and this is his first overseas trip since replacing fellow American Paul Wolfowitz.

The meeting starts Monday at a seaside hotel at Coolum on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.

Australia is this year's host of the series of meetings of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping of regional economies that ends with the leader's meeting in Sydney in September.

Zoellick is well-known in the region, having served as a US deputy secretary of state and also as President George W Bush's top trade negotiator.

'Ten years after the East Asian financial crisis the region has become an important source of growth and dynamism,' Zoellick told reporters in Washington before setting off on a trip that will also take him to Cambodia, Vietnam and Japan.

'I look forward to exchanging views with APEC partners on ... sustaining growth and overcoming poverty while increasing energy efficiency and environmental protection in a region where demand is growing rapidly.'

The new World Bank president has said he would be pushing on with Wolfowitz's focus on tackling corruption and solving governance issues.

'I want to try to stress the overall rule of law, good governance, the openness of a society and how it can contribute to development and opportunity,' he said at the press briefing.

In Cambodia and Vietnam, big recipients of World Bank loans, Zoellick will visit projects and meet government officials, business leaders and civic groups. Zoellick said Cambodia was 'emerging as a vibrant economy, having posted double-digit growth for the past three years.'

Zoellick praised Vietnam, last year's APEC host, saying it was a 'great development story from which many other developing countries can learn.'

Japan is the second-largest World Bank donor after the US, and a key member of APEC along with the US, China and Russia.

'I'm interested in trying to get the sense of priorities that Japan sees in the development area,' Zoellick said.

In the weeks before he took over at the World Bank, Zoellick visited Africa, Europe and Latin America.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Mass Protests Planned for APEC

THOUSANDS OF people will attend protests during the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Sydney, Australia, on 7-8 September 2007. Amongst them will be trade unionists, students, socialists, community activists and others who oppose the neo-liberal policies of cuts, privatisation and workplace deregulation.

Despite the massive police operation, activists will be there in force to defend their democratic rights and voice their opposition to the APEC leaders such as George Bush and also their policies.

APEC is an economic body consisting of Pacific Rim countries including the US, Japan and Australia. According to the World Bank, these countries represent about 60% of the world economy. From its beginning in 1989, APEC was designed to assist the rich elite in boosting their already massive profits by forcing more 'Third World' countries to open their markets for 'First World' goods and services. Such economic 'liberalisation' not only undermines local industry, but it devastates agriculture on which their struggling populations depend.

APEC leaders from the world's most powerful economies, along with key regional leaders, will, once again, discuss 'trade liberalisation' with no consideration of human rights, labour rights and the environment. APEC has denied any formal engagement with the labour movement, or civil rights groups. Not one organisation from the labour movement has been invited to any of the APEC meetings!

However, APEC leaders are keen to have big business input through the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) and the Energy Working Group, which welcomes contributions from the private sector. These forums receive substantial inputs from big companies such as, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Chevron Oil Company. The APEC Energy Working Group rejected the Kyoto Protocol Strategy and the proposed alternatives to 'clean' fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

The anti-APEC protests in Sydney, in September, present an opportunity for the Australian labour movement to mobilise against this anti-worker forum, including protesting against Howard's anti-worker Industrial Relations laws - some of the most draconian pieces of anti-union legislation in the industrialised countries.

Thousands of anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist youth will take part in mass protests. To strengthen the anti-APEC demonstrations means the active involvement of the organised working class. The working class has the potential to bring society to a halt and can lead the struggle against the APEC leaders and the bosses' system they represent.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bush Backs Out of Asean Summit

US ties with Southeast Asia are facing a setback as President George W. Bush cancelled his scheduled first summit with ASEAN leaders and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to the region for annual talks seems uncertain.

US officials have informed Singapore, host of the much-touted US-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, that the September 5 date for the talks was now "not convenient," ASEAN diplomats said.

September is critical for Bush as a much-awaited assessment of the situation in insurgency-wracked Iraq would be released that month amid a revolt within his own Republican party over failed war strategy.

"We are actually disappointed," one ASEAN diplomat told AFP.

The landmark summit was aimed at highlighting 30 years of official ties between Washington and ASEAN, which comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

On the heels of the failed summit is growing uncertainty about Rice attending an annual ASEAN ministerial meeting, which includes an August 1-2 dialogue between the region and its key trading partners as well as a high-level regional security forum.

The 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is the only high level official security group in the Asia-Pacific region, and includes Russia, India, China and the European Union.

Foreign diplomats say they have heard that Rice may skip the trip to the ASEAN meeting due to a conflict of schedules.

"We will keep you up to date on her travel schedules," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Wednesday when asked whether Rice would attend the meeting or send her deputy, John Negroponte.

In 2005, Rice became the first American secretary of state to send her deputy to the ARF since it was first held in 1994, drawing criticism from the region which felt its stature had diminished in Washington's eyes.

Walter Lohman, former senior vice president of the US-ASEAN Business Council, said that based on information he had received, "it looks all but certain that Secretary Rice would take a pass on the ASEAN meetings."

With Bush's cancellation of his summit with ASEAN leaders and Rice's possible non-attendance, Lohman said the immediate future seemed grim for ties between the two sides.

"It is a significant setback in US-ASEAN relations after two good years and the question is, if the administration doesn't quickly get back on track, will there really be enough time in the next 18 months to patch it up," said Lohman, director of the Asian studies center at Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

With 18 months left in the White House for Bush, his administration's Asian diplomacy had been largely focused on trying to end North Korea's nuclear weapons drive in the hope of achieving its true foreign policy victory.

After refusing to engage directly with North Korea, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian affairs Christopher Hill decided to make a sudden visit to Pyongyang last month.

In his rush to make the trip, he reneged on an annual meeting with his ASEAN counterparts in Washington.

"Canceling a meeting here or there may not seem like a big deal, but the slights are piling up," Lohman said.

"To anyone watching from Asia, they point past the current position of the United States to a future without it," he said.

ASEAN is the largest US export market after Europe and Japan. The region of more than 500 million people is establishing with China a free trade zone -- which would be the world's biggest.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Cops on Red Alert for Asean Meetings

The police in Metro Manila will be placed on red alert in time for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meetings at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

Chief Supt. Eric Javier, Metro Manila police deputy for operations, said the red alert is meant more to secure visiting delegates than averting a terror attack.

Radio dzBB reported Monday that Javier also received assurances from militant groups that they will not disrupt the Asean meetings from July 29 to Aug. 2.

While it was not immediately clear when the red-alert status will take effect, checkpoints have been observed in many areas of Metro Manila since last weekend.

At least 27 countries will be represented at the 40th Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM), the Post-Ministerial Conferences (PMCs), and the 14th ASEAN Regular Forum (ARF) in Manila.

Foreign Affairs Department Assistant Secretary for ASEAN Affairs Luis Cruz said ASEAN foreign ministers will discuss the status of ASEAN's community building efforts and assess the progress security community, economic community, and socio-cultural community.

Cruz said the 40th AMM will also adopt measures to implement the landmark decisions of the 12th ASEAN, the 2nd East Asia Summit and other related summits held in Cebu last January.

He also noted that for the first time, Sri Lanka will be represented in the 14th ARF, bringing the total number of ARF participating countries to 27.

The Philippines, as current chairman of the ASEAN Standing Committee, is expected to lead in the discussions of the measures to follow up on the directives of the ASEAN leaders firmed up at the Cebu Summit.

The AMM is an annual meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers held in July. Hosting is on a rotational basis by ASEAN member countries in alphabetical order.

The 10 ASEAN members are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

On the other hand, the PMCs are annual meetings between ASEAN foreign ministers and their counterparts from 10 dialogue partners: China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India, Russia, Canada, the United States, and the European Union.

Cruz said the PMCs in Manila, scheduled on Aug. 1, will have the ASEAN foreign ministers meet with their counterparts from Australia, Canada, the European Union, New Zealand, Russia and the US.

The meetings with the foreign ministers of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea took place at the sidelines of the Cebu Summit.

The 14th ARF is the only forum in the Asia-Pacific whose aim is to discuss regional and international security issues.

Scheduled on Aug. 2, the ARF will bring together foreign ministers of ASEAN, their counterparts from the 10 dialogue partners and from other countries in the region that include Bangladesh, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste.

The theme of the upcoming Manila meetings, Cruz said, is still "One Caring and Sharing Community."

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007


As the Doha round of global trade talks flounder, Asia-Pacific commerce ministers said they will do their best to make them succeed -- while at the same time exploring plans for their own free-trade area.

The 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, which accounts for half the world's trade, urged its 21 members to exert ``political will'' to push the troubled Doha negotiations in Geneva. The group also said ``the time is right'' to pursue regional economic integration and a possible free-trade zone in the Asia- Pacific.

``We discussed various ways to achieve free trade in the region, including the possibility of a free-trade area of the Asia- Pacific as a long-term prospect,'' APEC's trade ministers said in a communique at the close of a two-day meeting in Cairns, Australia.

The Doha round of global trade talks, which are expected to add hundreds of billions of dollars in commerce and lift millions of people out of poverty, came close to collapse two weeks ago in Potsdam, Germany, over disagreements among the U.S., European Union, Brazil and India.

If not successful this year, the World Trade Organization negotiations on freer global trade ``will go into hibernation,'' U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said yesterday in Cairns.

Talks have stalled over the failure of the U.S., the European Union, India, Brazil and China to open up agricultural and industrial markets and end subsidies.

`Urgent Need'

``There has never been a more urgent need to make progress,'' APEC said in a special statement on the Doha talks. ``We need to make cuts in agricultural and industrial tariffs.''

``We will demonstrate the necessary political will and flexibility, and call upon other World Trade Organization members to do the same,'' the statement read.

Australian Trade Minister Warren Truss released the statement in Cairns yesterday and said: ``It's stronger than any language we've previously used.''

According to Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu, APEC members in Cairns agreed to exert ``political will'' by individually lobbying Geneva negotiators with their offers for expanding trade and cutting tariffs. ``This is the only real window of opportunity,'' she said.

As many as 30 trade officials are scheduled to meet in Geneva later this month to thrash out differences over agriculture and manufacturing in a bid to arrive at a final series of ``text'' agreements.

Regional Trade Zone

On the group's exploration of an Asia-Pacific free-trade zone, which was discussed at the summit of APEC leaders in Hanoi last year, the group said ``scope exists for more intensive activity across APEC's agenda in support of regional economic integration.''

In Cairns, Schwab said APEC is focused on the Doha round, and the prospect of an Asia-Pacific free-trade zone was remote. ``We're a long, long way from an Asia-Pacific free-trade area,'' she said. ``But you have to do some of the analytic work now. We're talking many years out.''

Lim Jock Seng, Brunei's deputy minister for foreign affairs and trade, said the group was just studying the concept of a free- trade area. ``This is basically preparation,'' he said.

``Our priority remains with the Doha round,'' Truss said today.

``This will be about the fourth or fifth time APEC trade ministers or leaders have called for change in Geneva and it never follows,'' Alan Oxley, Chairman of the APEC Study Center at Australia's Monash University in Melbourne, said in an interview yesterday. ``The key problem is the European community. Until they act significantly to cut their trade barriers in agriculture, things won't move.''

2007 Deadline

APEC was crucial to saving the previous set of trade talks, called the Uruguay Round, in the 1990s, which also floundered on agriculture subsidy issues.

The ambitious and troubled Doha agenda, launched six years ago, has stalled over a failure to reach deals on rice, poultry, bananas and manufactured goods, among others.

The 150-nation World Trade Organization has set a 2007 deadline for the Doha round. Ideally, the framework of a deal should be complete by early August.

The World Bank said in 2005 a successful implementation of Doha could reduce the number of people living in poverty by 32 million within 10 years.

APEC also said it would implement measures to reduce trading costs among its members by 5 percent by 2010, primarily through more transparent import-export procedures.

Trade Costs

Australia's Truss said the standardization of customs procedures across APEC economies, and the better use of the group's business travel cards, among others, could save member economies US$170 billion.

``Implementation of the plan will keep APEC at the forefront of international work to reduce trade transaction costs,'' Truss said.

APEC includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the U.S. and Vietnam.

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