The most recent world trade talks failed miserably last year in Seattle as riots raged outside. Led by President Clinton, wealthy nations had entered this year's annual summit of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum hoping to urge the World Trade Organization to start new talks by 2001.
But Third World countries led by Malaysia insisted on seeing an agenda first, saying they are tired of being pushed around in the WTO by their wealthy trading partners.
After two days of talks, the leaders struck a compromise: They decided to call for an agenda first as the poor nations wanted and push for talks to start next year, which the rich nations sought.
"We believe that a balanced and sufficiently broad-based agenda that responds to the interests and concerns of all WTO members should be formulated and finalized as soon as possible in 2001 and that a round be launched in 2001," APEC said in its five-page final statement.
The poor nations are furious at the insistence of the United States and other wealthy countries that new trade talks include provisions on environmental protection and workers' rights.
Poor nations say that could undermine their key competitive advantages in the global economy their ability to exploit cheap labor and natural resources. They accuse the West of hypocrisy in seeking labor and environmental standards that took years to develop in nations that already had been industrialized.
"Disparities between the rich and the poor continue to grow and many people are at risk of being marginalized," the host of the Brunei summit, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, said at its conclusion. "We simply cannot have a world in which the knowledge-based economies are all racing along the information superhighway while less-developed economies struggle with disease, famine and poverty."
Thailand Trade Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi, who will become the leader of the WTO in 2002, had warned against setting a deadline for talks. He and others fear that if the WTO sets a target and misses it, that would be a damaging, Seattle-style failure.
APEC can only urge the WTO to begin new talks, so Thursday's statement does not necessarily mean talks will begin next year.
In another development, the final APEC communiqué said China should be accepted into the WTO soon, followed quickly by Taiwan and sometime later by Russia and Vietnam.
China has been trying for years to get into the Geneva-based group that sets global trade rules and now appears quite close.
A final sticking point for China's WTO bid is a trade pact with Mexico, which wants assurances that the Chinese won't flood its market with cheap goods. Chinese and Mexican trade officials negotiated on the sidelines of APEC, but a Chinese official said late Thursday the effort had failed for now so they will have to try again later.
The APEC final statement also:
The APEC summit in oil-rich Brunei is Mr. Clinton's last and comes at a time when many of the group's leaders face uncertainties or even serious threats to their rule.
Philippine President Joseph Estrada faces an impeachment proceeding over corruption charges, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori is reeling after a scandal involving his spy chief that has forced him to say he will quit next year and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is up against efforts from within his own party to call a no-confidence vote.
Mr. Clinton fielded questions about the unknown outcome of the U.S. presidential election. He told others not to worry about the unusually slow pace of U.S. democracy.
Mr. Clinton left for Hanoi after the conference.
APEC provided an ideal venue for leaders to meet one-on-one. Some observers say that is the group's main value as it pursues its long-term goals of free and fair trade on both sides of the Pacific Rim, by 2010 for developed countries and 2020 for developing ones.
The APEC member nations are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.
The U.S. president, who inaugurated the APEC summits in Seattle in 1993 said on Wednesday he hoped they would continue but added, laughing, that recent events in the United States had shown "we should all be very careful about making predictions."
"I know I can safely predict that this will be my last APEC summit I just don't know who will be here next year."
Mr. Clinton said there is plenty of time for the American system to work to determine whether Vice President Al Gore, his chosen successor, or Republican Gov. George W. Bush was elected president in the disputed election Nov. 7, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.
But Putin may have spoken for APEC, if not much of the world, when he said: "We are anxiously, but with respect to the feelings of the American people, waiting for the outcome."
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