• Kyodo

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Trade ministers from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum kicked off a two-day meeting Wednesday in Shanghai, where they are expected to agree to push for the launch in November in Qatar of a new round of trade liberalization talks under the World Trade Organization.

At the outset of the meeting at the Shanghai International Convention Center, Chinese Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Minister Shi Guangsheng, who chairs the meeting, read a message from Chinese President Jiang Zemin that said the gathering was important for the maintenance of a stable and open economic and trade environment in the region and for the establishment of a fair and rational new world economic order.

The APEC ministers likely will urge the agenda of the new trade talks to be broad-based, Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma told reporters just before the meeting’s opening.

Although some countries are still reluctant to cover broad issues in the round’s agenda, Japan’s commitment to help them implement past WTO agreements would let APEC reach an accord at least in October when their leaders meet, also in Shanghai, Hiranuma said.

“We will discuss details later, but I think a call for the agenda to be broad-based will be included” in a joint statement the APEC ministers are slated to issue Thursday, the Japanese minister said.

The ministers will also discuss strengthening the region’s own trade and investment liberalization.

They will also discuss economic and technical cooperation, and the information technology-driven “new economy.”

The ministers, laying the groundwork for an APEC summit in China’s financial capital of Shanghai in October, were also expected to call for China’s early entry to the WTO and for another round of global trade talks.

China’s chairmanship of APEC this year is seen by ministers as giving the added impetus vital to its 14-year bid to join the WTO and kick-start a new global trade round.

As part of efforts, the United States has proposed the “Shanghai Charter,” comprising four points, including the review of the 1995 Osaka Action Agenda, to be adopted at the leaders’ summit in October.

The charter, if agreed, would be key to regaining momentum for achieving APEC’s goal of free and open trade and investment by 2010 for developed countries, and by 2020 for developing nations.

The charter proposal has drawn a positive response from APEC ministers.

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