Manila: Trade ministers from 21 Asia-Pacific countries Sunday issued strong support to the World Trade Organization's efforts to boost global trade amid a flurry of regional free trade agreements.
The ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping of nations vowed at the end of their two-day meeting on the central Philippine resort island of Boracay to ratify by December a landmark trade facilitation deal and to contribute to a work program to conclude the much-delayed Doha round of trade negotiations.
They reaffirmed in a separate document from their annual joint statement "the centrality and primacy of the multilateral trading system under the auspices of the WTO" in promoting trade and economic growth.
They also promised to exercise restraint in implementing measures consistent with WTO provisions but which have a significant protectionist effect, "and to promptly rectify such measures, where they are implemented."
At the same time, the ministers' joint statement welcomed progress on a collective study on opportunities and challenges ahead of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. They instructed officials to report updates on it by November and to have a final report by next year's ministerial meeting.
APEC leaders agreed in Beijing in November to accelerate efforts to create the FTAAP "as early as possible" and endorsed a road map to its creation.
The FTAAP goal is being pursued as talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade initiative of 12 countries including the United States, Japan and Australia, but excluding China have been delayed by legislative debate in the US over President Barack Obama's controversial "fast-track" trade bill to complete the TPP deal.
The bill was finally passed the by US Senate on Friday, but it is expected to face a tougher time in the House, which resumes sessions on June 1.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman told a news conference in Boracay that ministers from TPP member countries took the opportunity to meet over breakfast Sunday to review the status of the negotiations and talk about the work program going forward.
"Our negotiators are working as we speak and working through issues," he said. "We hope to conclude it soon; we're very much in the end game."