Bush at APEC
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.