Pacific Rim nations bickered Monday over a proposal to curb global warming, with host Australia saying a modest agreement on climate change would be a success.
Familiar fault lines emerged between developed and developing countries over Australian Prime Minister John Howard's plan for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to reach consensus on a new approach to climate change.
China and other countries suspect the Australian proposal, which is backed by the United States, might compel them to accept targets, two Southeast Asian diplomats said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Officials from many of APEC's 21 member nations on hand were unprepared to deal with the complex issue, with experts flying in Monday and Tuesday to draft an agreement in time for the leaders' weekend summit.
Meanwhile, the issue of trade proved less troublesome, with senior APEC officials signing off on a statement to be handed to leaders later this week calling for urgent progress on the sputtering global trade talks, which resumed Monday in Geneva.
Though APEC still considers itself chiefly a trade group, its mission has expanded in recent years, taking on health and security issues and natural disasters that disrupt economic growth.
Yet forging a consensus on climate change could prove difficult. APEC includes the world's biggest emitters of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming--the United States, China and Russia.
Still, Howard and the U.S. said even modest success in Sydney could shape future negotiations on climate change, including meetings planned by the White House this month and a U.N. gathering in December to look for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which expires in 2012.
A day after announcing he would like to see the APEC leaders reach a consensus on a post-Kyoto strategy that all members could join, Howard appeared Monday to soften his hopes for the summit.
"Nobody is arguing that you can fix the climate change issue at the APEC meeting in Sydney," Howard said. "If we can get some consensus on a way forward on climate change out of a body including America, Russia and China, that's a huge step forward."
Under Howard's proposal, first sent to APEC members three weeks ago, leaders would commit to meeting two goals, one on reforestation, the other on reducing energy intensity, a senior U.S. official said on customary condition of anonymity.
Rejects Hard Targets
His proposal rejects the hard greenhouse gas reduction targets that Kyoto set for industrialized countries. Developing nations were exempt--a situation that caused the U.S. and Australia to reject the protocol, arguing that it placed their industries at a competitive disadvantage.
Malaysia's Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz last week reportedly said Australia and the United States should back off because they have yet to ratify Kyoto. The Philippines also said it disliked the proposal in its current form.
On trade, the statement agreed to by senior APEC officials said making progress on the Doha round of global trade talks has "never been more urgent" and leaders would urge for a new push to complete them.
"We pledge to push hard for the progress necessary to ensure the Doha round negotiations enter their final phase this year," says the statement, obtained by The Associated Press.
WTO Talks in Geneva
On Monday, negotiators in Geneva began three weeks of talks on new proposals to bridge differences on cutting farm subsidies and industrial tariffs among the World Trade Organization's 151 members.
"We all realize that the stakes are high. Time is running out," said David Spencer, the Australian who chaired the APEC officials' meetings. "For the next few weeks, it is critical that we make some progress in an effort to move to the final stages of these negotiations."
APEC's endorsement carries the imprimatur of economic powers China, Japan and the United States, but the group's influence over the global talks is limited because it doesn't include key WTO players such as the European Union, India and Brazil.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said a strong APEC statement in Sydney about the global talks "will send a very important signal to our other trading partners who aren't here."