|Farmers work in a field in the suburbs of Hanoi in 2006. Trade ministers from 21 APEC nations have begun gathering in Australia for talks they hope could provide a spark to reignite stalled efforts to liberalise world trade. (AFP Photo)|
Trade ministers from 21 APEC nations began gathering in Australia on Thursday for talks they hope could provide a spark to reignite stalled efforts to liberalise world trade.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum talks in the northern city of Cairns mark the first major trade ministers' meeting to take place since negotiations over the liberalising global trade collapsed two weeks ago.
Security was especially tight around the meeting venue in northern Queensland state ollowing the arrest in nearby Brisbane of an Indian doctor in connection with last weekend's failed car bombings in London and Glasgow.
Australian Trade Minister Warren Truss, who is chairing the meeting in the run-up to the APEC leaders' summit in Sydney in September, said that while the ministers had a broader agenda, they could provide leadership on resolving the impasse on agriculture and manufacturing.
"Foremost in our discussions today will be an assessment of the Doha round of negotiations and an examination of how we may be able to contribute constructively to that process," he told the ministers.
"If we are able to reach a degree of consensus, well that can provide some leadership," he added in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The Doha round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks remain stalled over agricultural subsidies and trade tariffs.
Discussions between the so-called "G4" -- the European Union, United States, Brazil and India -- collapsed last month in Germany.
But analysts said any breakthrough in Cairns was very unlikely as the United States is the only G4 economy to be represented at the meeting.
Truss conceded that the failure of the G4 talks again raised the question of whether the Doha round could reach a conclusion acceptable to all 150 WTO members but said there remained a glimmer of hope on resurrecting the talks.
"The failure of the G4 to reach an agreement ... has certainly again raised questions about our capacity to conclude a successful deal in the short- to medium-term.
The ministers, who will meet informally Thursday before issuing a communique on Friday, will also discuss the long-term goal of a free trade area for the Asia Pacific, an initiative which may gain momentum if the Doha round fails.
Schwab said Washington was keen to discuss the possibility of an Asia-Pacific free trade pact.
"So much of our trade is in the Asia-Pacific region and it would make an incredible amount of sense to see an Asia-Pacific wide trade agreement," she said.