• Kyodo

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Economic ministers from 13 East Asian nations issued a joint statement Friday calling for a new round of trade liberalization talks under the World Trade Organization in November in Qatar.

The joint statement was issued at the end of a one-day economic ministers’ conference involving representatives from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan, China and South Korea. The meeting is known as the ASEAN-plus-three meeting.

The ministers also agreed to set up six multilateral projects in line with priorities and formula established during their previous meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in October, sources said.

In the joint statement, the ministers backed the launch of the new WTO round at a WTO ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar. The ASEAN-plus-three meeting of economic ministers is also calling for antidumping and investment measures to be included in a “sufficiently broad-based agenda” for the new trade round, the statement shows.

A Japanese trade official said Tokyo expects the new round to be launched in Qatar and that differences in the scope and extent of the agenda — which led to the failure to launch the talks at the previous WTO ministerial meeting in December 1999 — will be overcome.

The ASEAN-plus-three meeting also produced a deal on cooperation in information technology, a high priority area for development throughout the region.

Japan’s delegation proposed a number of IT-related projects under a $15 billion, five-year assistance package Tokyo announced in July to help bridge the digital divide.

It will propose a new multilateral IT project, called the Asia e-Learning Initiative, and unveil two IT projects to be sponsored by Japan — building a common Asian infrastructure for e-commerce and a plan to dispatch IT experts to help small and midsize enterprises in Asia, delegation officials said earlier.

Hidehiro Konno, Japan’s vice trade minister for international affairs, who attended the meeting on behalf of Trade Minister Takeo Hiranuma, briefed the meeting on the World Exposition in 2005 in Aichi Prefecture.

Among the six projects adopted at Siem Reap is the Asian Common Skill Standard Initiative for IT Engineers, proposed by Japan in the Chiang Mai meeting. Japan aims to start the project in countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines as early as September.

Chinese warning

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (Kyodo) Shi Guangsheng, China’s minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, indicated Friday that Beijing will take retaliatory measures against Japan’s imposition of an emergency import curb on Chinese farm exports.

“We are hopeful that the Japanese government will change these restrictions, otherwise China reserves the right to take any countermeasures,” Shi told a news conference attended by Japan’s trade representative.

“It will undoubtedly increase trade friction between China and Japan and will undoubtedly obstruct normal trade and economic development between the two countries,” Shi said.

On April 23, Japan provisionally invoked its first emergency import restrictions under the ordinary “safeguard” mechanism of the World Trade Organization against three agricultural products, the bulk of which come from China.

In the same week, some Chinese import inspection offices began holding up a wide range of Japanese import products packed in wooden crates, a move widely regarded as retaliation for the Japanese action.

Shi, however, stated this was “a normal inspection.” An official from China’s State Administration for Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine has also insisted that the measure was impartial.

In a brief interview with Kyodo News, Shi also said of the Japanese policy measure, “It will have some influence on Sino-Japanese economic relations. China reserves the right to take action.”

Shi conveyed China’s position directly earlier Friday to Japan’s senior trade official that it will have to take countermeasures unless Japan reconsiders its action, Japanese officials said.

Vice Trade Minister Hidehiro Konno was quoted as replying that, under WTO rules, a country cannot take countermeasures as long as the safeguard is invoked on a provisional basis. Shi’s response was that China has yet to join the world free trade watchdog.

“It was very serious,” one Japanese official said of the brief conversation between Konno and Shi during a coffee break at the meeting of economic ministers from 13 East Asian nations they were attending in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Konno, vice minister of trade for international affairs, later defended Tokyo’s stance, saying the measure was taken “in strict accordance with WTO safeguard rules” in a manner not to decrease the level of imports and Japan is willing to consult with China.

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