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Canada uses APEC to push for revival of stalled trade talks

Minister of International Trade Ed Fast is pictured in the House of Commons on Oct. 2, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast is part of a desperate final push to revive stalled global trade talks.

Mr. Fast met over the weekend with trade ministers attending the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum in Bali, Indonesia, in a bid to encourage more compromise in the lead-up to a pivotal World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in December.

"The credibility of the WTO negotiating function is at stake, and by extension, the credibility of the institution itself," Mr. Fast told the 20 other APEC trade ministers, according to speaking notes provided by his office.

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"Failure really cannot be an option."

The so-called Doha round of trade talks, launched a dozen years ago, stalled in 2005 amid a growing rift between developed and developing countries. That triggered a proliferation of bilateral and regional free-trade negotiations, including the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Canada alone is now engaged in 14 separate sets of free-trade talks involving dozens of countries, as well as an ambitious international services agreement with a select group of 22 WTO members. In some cases, Ottawa is negotiating simultaneously with the same countries in multiple venues.

Newly installed WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo warned in a recent letter to WTO members that significant gaps remain in a proposed deal, including agriculture, customs co-operation, non-tariff barriers and special exemptions for the least-developed countries.

Mr. Azevedo said members would have to narrow those differences substantially by the end of October to keep hopes alive of striking a deal at a WTO ministerial meeting in December, also slated for Bali.

"We cannot go to Bali with issues unresolved and texts full of square brackets," Mr. Azevedo said in a letter sent to all 159 WTO members. "This would be a recipe for failure."

But trade experts said the chances of reaching a substantial deal in December are remote.

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"[The Doha round] is dead and it won't be resurrected for some time," said Lawrence Herman, a Toronto trade lawyer with Cassels Brock.

"The business world is so fast-paced now that these trade negotiations are getting bypassed by the real world," Mr. Herman said.

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