PUSAN, South Korea, Nov 15 (Reuters): Pacific Rim nations representing almost half of world trade took a swipe today at Europe's reluctance to open its markets to farm goods, the main stumbling block ahead of December's talks on a free trade pact.
The 21 leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in South Korea now look set at the end of this week to issue what one official described as a "short, sharp statement urging the European Union to move on market access".
The group, which includes heavyweights of world trade from the United States and Australia to China and Japan, hopes its call will energise World Trade Organisation talks in Hong Kong next month.
"We want to see progress on agriculture," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters after a meeting of APEC ministers in the port city of Pusan to hammer out the wording of the leaders' statement.
It is far from clear that pressure from APEC will make a difference to the trade negotiations.
For one, the group is seen as more of an economic talking shop than a driving force on global issues, and two of its key members-Japan and South Korea-themselves give massive support to their politically influential rice farmers.
The World Trade Organisation's 148 member states had been aiming to agree on an outline plan at the Dec 13-18 Hong Kong talks, with a view to wrapping up the pact by the end of 2006.
But wrangling with the EU over access for agricultural goods has raised the spectre of two earlier failures-Seattle in 1999 and Cancun in 2003 -- that set back the cause of free trade.