VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) – Asia-Pacific nations including China, the United States and Russia will promise measures to boost growth on Sunday and reject limits on food exports to try to revive the flagging global economy.
Countries on the Pacific Rim were expected to end a two-day summit on an island off the Russian port city of Vladivostok by expressing concern about the fragile state of the world economy, global food security and growing signs of protectionism.
The 21 members of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group agreed to slash import duties on “green technology,” take steps to bolster growth and liberalize trade to counter problems heightened by Europe’s debt crisis.
“There’s a general sense that the world economy is a little fragile … but there’s confidence that we can get through this,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told reporters before talks began on the final day of their summit.
Several countries were worried that moves to crack down on protectionism were “going backwards,” Key said, adding: “The risk is that people will return to a fortress mentality.”
APEC, which also groups Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Canada and South Korea, makes decisions by consensus and its moves are not binding. But its influence is growing as Europe’s declines. It accounts for 40 percent of the world’s population, 54 percent of its economic output and 44 percent of its trade.
Despite a drought that has hit crops in the United States and Russia, which are global wheat suppliers, the leaders agreed not to limit food exports and underlined the importance of open markets to ensure reliable food supplies.
They also endorsed a list of 54 environmental goods on which import duties will be reduced to no more than 5 percent by 2015, including equipment for renewable energy, waste treatment and environmental monitoring.
The 21 APEC members were also expected to confirm a commitment to a 10-percent improvement by 2015 in the efficiency of industrial supply chains, by clearing transport bottlenecks and streamlining customs procedures.
Asked about a call by Putin to reserve the right to protect some goods during times of crisis, Key said: “I can’t see that being accepted at all.”
US, RUSSIA LOOK TO ASIA
Putin used the summit to grandstand four months after returning to the Kremlin and less than a month after Moscow joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). Underlining Russia’s growing status as a wheat supplier, he said Russia would ramp up grain production and more than double exports by 2020.
Russia and the United States are both looking to Asia, where economic growth is relatively strong, in a pivotal turn to boost their economies following the 2008-09 global financial crisis.
“It is absolutely clear that the most important region for economic growth this decade – and probably the next decade – will be the Pacific,” said Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
Hosting the summit on an island linked to the mainland by a spectacular new $1-billion bridge, a symbol of Moscow’s decision to look east, Putin has advertised his vast country at the summit as a gateway for Asia to European markets.
Chinese President Hu Jintao promised that his country, the world’s second largest economy and Asia’s biggest, would rebalance its economy to secure stable and robust growth after a slowdown that has hit the entire region.
In a sign of Russia’s intent, state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM) signed an agreement with Japan to develop plans for a $7 billion liquefied natural gas plant on Russia’s Pacific coast.
For his part, Hu spelled out a plan to pump $157 billion into infrastructure investments in agriculture, energy, railways and roads in China.
Businessmen who met on Vladivostok’s Russky Island before the summit welcomed Hu’s plan. Others, such as Scott Price, CEO and president of Walmart Asia (WMT.N), said China still offered huge upside potential despite its slowing growth.
“When a car stops going at 100 miles an hour and only goes 69, it’s still going pretty fast. A Chinese economy growing at 7.5 percent is still a very attractive market,” he said.
Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska, whose business ranges from aluminum production to construction, welcomed Hu’s infrastructure plan.
“We have a discussion on many different projects with Chinese companies on developing of ports, developing of new mines, increasing production at existing facilities,” Deripaska told Reuters.
Despite pledging to “build bridges, not walls” to trade and investment, China and Russia have also been challenged by Europe over trade practices it regards as limiting free competition, and a gas-pricing war is brewing between Brussels and Moscow.
Cooperation in APEC is hindered by territorial and other disputes among some members, and U.S. officials said part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s mission at the summit had been to assess former Cold War foe Russia’s eastward drive.
She was standing in for President Barack Obama and had only a brief meeting with Putin. The summit’s impact may also be watered down by the fact that the terms of some of the other leaders, such as Hu, will end soon.
(Writing by Timothy Heritage, Addiitonal reporting by Katya Golubkoa, Andrey Ostroukh, Kiryl Sukhotskiu, Gleb Bryanski and Denis Pinchuk, Editing by Todd Eastham)