Apec leaders make free-trade vow

Taro Aso (L), George W Bush (centre) and Lee Myung-bak in Lima, Peru - 22/11/2008

Apec leaders said trade barriers would stifle global economic growth

Leaders from Asia-Pacific countries have pledged not to respond to the global financial crisis by raising trade barriers over the next year.

In a statement issued at an Apec summit in Peru, they said protectionism would only worsen a difficult situation.

US President George W Bush urged Apec countries, which account for half the world’s economic activity, to rely on free markets to resolve the crisis.

The meeting is Mr Bush’s last scheduled foreign trip as US president.

The statement was issued at the half-way point of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit.

“There is a risk that slower world economic growth could lead to calls for protectionist measures which would only exacerbate the current economic situation,” the Apec leaders said in their joint statement.

One of the enduring lessons of the Great Depression is that global protectionism is a path to global economic ruin

George W Bush

It endorses the declaration made at a summit of the Group of 20 rich nations and major developing countries in Washington last weekend.

“We strongly support the Washington Declaration and will refrain within the next 12 months from raising new barriers to investment or to trade in goods and services [and from] imposing new export restrictions,” the statement said.

The leaders also said they would push to reach agreement next month on an outline agreement on the stalled Doha round of global free trade talks.

‘Path to ruin’

Individually, the leaders spoke out against the risks of raising trade barriers.

“Companies will go bankrupt and countless jobs will be lost, and poor nations and poor people will suffer the most damage,” said South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Mr Bush spoke passionately about his belief in the free market despite the recent world economic downturn.

He called for an Asia-Pacific region of “free markets, free trade and free people”.

“It is also essential that governments resist the temptation to overcorrect by imposing regulations that would stifle innovation and strangle growth.

George Bush addresses the Apec summit

“One of the enduring lessons of the Great Depression is that global protectionism is a path to global economic ruin,” he added.

He told the Apec summit in Peru’s capital, Lima, that he would “push hard” in his last two months in office to secure a deal to help complete the Doha round of World Trade Organisation talks.

“I recognise that I’m leaving office in two months but nevertheless this administration will push hard to put the modalities in place so that Doha can be completed and so we send a message we refuse to accept protectionism in the 21st Century,” Mr Bush said.

In his final months in the White House, it seems clear Mr Bush was thinking of his legacy as he mentioned the 11 free trade agreements the US had signed since he took office eight years ago, says the BBC’s Dan Collyns in Lima.

Apec nations are expected to endorse a promise to finish a framework for the Doha talks by the end of December.

Those talks – which began seven years ago – stalled over disputes between developed nations and developing countries.

But it is clear that the delegates do not expect any real movement on the issues until President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.

“In terms of leadership, the next US administration must assume leadership in a very firm manner – not just for Americans, but for the whole world,” said Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

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