Hot topics await Clark at Apec summit

By Paula Oliver

Prime Minister Helen Clark will meet world leaders this week at the annual Apec summit, where hot topics will include climate change and stalled world trade talks.

The Sydney summit has triggered Australia's biggest ever security operation, with 21 leaders descending on the city throughout the week.

Helen Clark will jet across the Tasman on Friday afternoon, and she has confirmed bilateral talks with the leaders of China, Canada, Chile and Singapore.

Asked if she expected to talk to US President George W. Bush - whom she saw in Washington in March - Helen Clark said yesterday that "we will talk, for sure".

The meeting with Chinese leader Hu Jintao comes as talks continue on a free trade agreement between the rapidly growing power and New Zealand.

While Helen Clark said it was not out of the question that an agreement could be reached by the end of this year, she noted, "We're not quite there yet".

Based on a two-year timeframe indicated last April, she said talks still had about seven months to go and were "going fine".

"We're down to the most difficult issues, but [are] still looking to do it within that two-year timeframe," she told the Herald.

That progress is in contrast to the Doha round of world trade talks, which have frequently broken down and at one point were suspended.

Much of the lead-up talk around this week's Apec summit has centred on climate change discussions, but Helen Clark said she expected that the traditional issue that Apec was concerned with - trade - would also feature strongly.

In particular, she said she would be looking for a leaders' statement to emerge from the summit once again calling for an outcome to the World Trade Organisation's difficult talks.

"I think, as in the past, the Apec leaders will be clear that they want progress - but it's then getting that actually played out in Geneva," she added.

If the world trade talks continued to stumble, a potential agreement involving Asia Pacific nations could gain more legs, she said.

Climate change discussions will also feature, and Greenpeace has already attacked a draft leaders' statement it claims shows a lack of ambition.

Helen Clark said there was a wide range of views on committing to cut greenhouse gas emissions. "But the point is, it's getting discussed - I think that has to be a good thing."

Big event

* The annual Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum is in Sydney this week.

* A total of 21 leaders will attend, including US President George W. Bush, Russia's Vladimir Putin, China's Hu Jintao, Japan's Shinzo Abe and our own Helen Clark.

* The biggest security operation ever seen in Australia is being mounted for the summit.

* Hot topics to be discussed include climate change and the difficult Doha round of world trade talks.

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