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APEC Ministers Agree on 'Strong Statement' Supporting WTO Goals

Senior ministers from Asian and Pacific nations have agreed what they call a "strong statement" backing a global agreement on free trade. World leaders are expected to issue the statement when they arrive at the talks in South Korea later this week.

Trade ministers at this week's summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum, or APEC, say their statement will send a clear message to the world backing free trade. The statement is aimed at boosting momentum for the broader World Trade Organization, or WTO, talks next month in Hong Kong.

WTO members agreed to wide-ranging free trade goals in Doha, Qatar in 2001. Implementing those goals has been delayed ever since over divisive issues like agricultural subsidies. Next month's Hong Kong meeting is seen as a make-or-break deadline for the Doha trade goals.

Tuesday's statement does not specifically refer to European Union policies on protecting domestic agriculture, viewed by many APEC members as a main stumbling block in the WTO.

South Korean APEC Ambassador Kim Jung-hoon says APEC member nations are consulting further about strategies to break the global impasse over access to agriculture markets.

Mr. Kim says members are discussing differing interpretations of the 2001 Doha trade goals, but expect to make progress toward a shared strategy within the next few days.

Tuesday's agreement followed a morning meeting between APEC ministers and WTO Secretary-General Pascal Lamy on the sidelines of the Busan summit. It is to be passed on to APEC heads of government, including President Bush, when they arrive later in the week.

Many corporate leaders are also attending this week's APEC gathering. Gary Banavan, chairman of U.S. financial services company New York Life, points out APEC nations account for more than half of world trade - giving the organization major influence at the WTO.

"I think there's an opportunity here at the leaders' meeting, and then later in the year in Hong Kong, for APEC to step forward and challenge the rest of the world," said Mr. Banavan.

Also on Tuesday, more than 10,000 South Korean farmers clashed with riot police in the capital, Seoul, as they marched on parliament to protest free trade policies ahead of this week's APEC leaders' summit.