APEC ministers call for recovery support, curbs on fishing, farm, fuel subsidies

By David Lawder and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Pacific Rim trade and foreign ministers on Tuesday pledged to sustain the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic while pursuing talks to curb subsidies for fisheries and agriculture at a forthcoming World Trade Organization meeting.

The ministers from the 21 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries said in a communique https://www.apec.org/meeting-papers/annual-ministerial-meetings/2021/2021-apec-ministerial-meeting issued after a virtual meeting there was wide divergence in recovery across and within economies, with downside risks remaining.

“We need to sustain our economic recovery through continued policy support measures, while preserving financial stability and long-term fiscal sustainability,” the ministers said.

They also said they would facilitate trade in a broader range of medical supplies to fight COVID-19 and voluntarily work to reduce the cost of vaccines and related goods. They pledged to support WTO negotiations on a temporary waiver of intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines.

The ministers’ meeting is part of a week-long series of APEC conferences culminating in a summit on Friday into Saturday, hosted entirely online by New Zealand, a country with hardline pandemic control measures that has kept its borders closed to almost all travellers for 18 months.

While New Zealand has emphasized APEC support for boosting supply chains for critical medical supplies and efforts to decarbonize economies, tensions are expected over self-ruled Taiwan’s bid to join a regional trade pact in which China also seeks membership, and a U.S. bid to host the 2023 round of APEC meetings.

OPENING TRAVEL

With many economies in the region dependent on tourism, the APEC ministers said they would work to ensure safe travel in the region, with “tangible outcomes in 2022.”

The trade-focused group said officials would work to foster a favorable trade and investment environment and “ensure our trade and investment environment is free, open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent and predictable.”

The APEC ministers said they would engage at the WTO’s 12th ministerial meeting (MC12) at the end of November to modernize trade rules and deliver concrete results. They called for WTO countries to negotiate effective curbs on harmful fisheries subsidies at the meeting in Geneva.

“We recognise the need for a meaningful outcome on agriculture at MC12, reflecting our collective interests and sensitivities, with a view towards achieving substantial progressive reductions in support and protection,” in line with previous WTO mandates, the ministers said.

On climate related issues, the ministers said they would try to accelerate efforts to rationalize and phase out “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption,” a goal first agreed by APEC leaders in 2010.

The group reiterated a call for officials to explore options for APEC members to pursue a voluntary standstill in fossil fuel subsidies and encouraged discussions on reducing non-tariff barriers to trade in environmental goods and services.

The ministers also said they would also work to fully embed digital trade procedures at their borders, eliminating paper documentation, to improve supply chain resilience.

(Reporting by David Lawder and David Brunnstrom; additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Praveen Menon; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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