Bush at APEC

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Pres­i­dent Bush’s trip to the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion sum­mit in Viet­nam lacked the aus­pi­cious send­off that he wanted. Mr. Bush landed in Hanoi two weeks ago with­out an agree­ment to grant Viet­nam per­ma­nent nor­mal trade re­la­tions — a deal that the United States needs in or­der to take ad­van­tage of Viet­nam’s up com­ing mem­ber­ship in the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion. A House vote two weeks ago came more than 30 votes shy of the two-thirds sup­port nec­es­sary to pass the bill with lim­ited de­bate. As a mat­ter of pol­icy, the fail­ure to pass the leg­is­la­tion is in­con­se­quen­tial: The bill will be passed in De­cem­ber. Sym­bol­i­cally, how­ever, the short­com­ing hurt the pres­i­dent, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing his first trip abroad since Democrats’ big elec­toral vic­tory.

Mem­bers reaf­firmed their com­mit­ment to a pan-Pa­cific free-trade re­gion — a goal in­tro­duced in 2004 based on a plan orig­i­nally es­tab­lished in In­done­sia in 1994, com­monly known as the Bo­gor goals, for free trade among de­vel­oped mem­ber coun­tries by 2010 and de­vel­op­ing mem­ber coun­tries by 2020. At the same time, mem­bers ex­pressed their pref­er­ence for the ad­mirable goal of restart­ing the stalled Doha Round trade ne­go­ti­a­tions. Agree­ments reached to re­duce tar­iffs and farm sub­si­dies may help that goal, but re­ac­ti­vat­ing the Doha ne­go­ti­a­tions re­quire re­cip­ro­cal con­ces­sions from the Euro­pean Union.

Al­though in­tended pri­mar­ily as eco­nomic fo­rums, the APEC meet­ings have had prom­i­nent po­lit­i­cal di­men­sion as well. The Hanoi sum­mit should have pro­vided lead­ers from five coun­tries in­volved in the six-party talks with North Korea — the United States, China, Rus­sia, South Korea and Ja­pan — the op­por­tu­nity to demon­strate sol­i­dar­ity against Kim Jong-il’s nu­clear am­bi­tions. The sternly worded state- ment de­liv­ered by Viet­namese Pres­i­dent Nguyen Minh Triet, which as­serted “strong con­cern” about North Korea’s nu­clear test, had the sup­port of all APEC mem­bers, but it did not con­vey uni­fied op­po­si­tion as force­fully as the more for­mal writ­ten state­ment that Mr. Bush ad­vo­cated would have. While it could have been stronger, the state­ment was a con­sen­sus view and, in con­trast, a clear im­prove­ment over the in­di­vid­ual state­ments is­sued af­ter the 2004 APEC sum­mit in Chile.

Dur­ing a brief stop in Moscow and later in Hanoi, Mr. Bush and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin made more sub­stan­tive progress on trade is­sues than on non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ef­forts. Rus­sia’s un­will­ing­ness to sup­port sanc­tions against Iran has cur­tailed U.N. ef­forts against the rogue regime. Mr. Bush, equipped with an en­tic­ing car­rot in the form of an agree­ment that would give Rus­sia its cov­eted WTO mem­ber­ship, pressed the Rus­sian pres­i­dent to sup­port U.S. ef­forts against Iran. While im­por­tant to the United States, the WTO agree­ment was even more valu­able to Rus­sia and an im­por­tant bar­gain­ing chip. Mr. Bush, said Press Sec­re­tary Tony Snow, im­pressed upon Mr. Putin the need to send a “clear mes­sage that we’re not only united, but se­ri­ous.” The agree­ment, signed Nov. 19, for­mal­ized U.S. con­sent to Rus­sian en­try into the WTO.

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