November 23, 2018 / 1:06 PM / 20 days ago

APEC host urges greater WTO participation amid U.S.-China discord

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O' Neill shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence as Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe look on, during the signing of a joint electricity deal between Australia, Japan, New Zealand, United States for Papua New Guinea, during the APEC Summit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea November 18, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill urged Asia-Pacific nations to increase their participation in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Friday, five days after a tense regional summit held in the Pacific nation ended in acrimony.

Deep divisions between the United States and China over trade and investment stymied cooperation at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), leaving the 21 member nations unable to issue a traditional joint communique on shared goals for the first time in the summit’s history.

O’Neill, who also served as APEC chairman, issued a statement in lieu of the joint communique, which acknowledged a “small number” of forum members could not agree on issues including trade polices and how the WTO functioned.

“In order to improve the functioning of the WTO and to deliver for all its members, we commit to work together to improve its negotiating, monitoring and dispute settlement functions,” O’Neill said in a statement.

Trade and diplomatic ties between the world’s two largest economies have become increasingly fraught due to disagreements over everything from trade practices and tariffs to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traded barbs at the forum over their competing polices in the strategic Pacific region, with the U.S. taking direct aim at China’s Belt and Road initiative over claims it saddled countries with debt and compromised their sovereignty.

Trump has complained frequently that the United States is treated unfairly in global trade and has sharply criticized the WTO for letting that happen.

Members of the Group of 20 summit are meeting in Argentina later this month, where climate change, steel and migration have emerged as major sticking points.

Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in SYDNEY; Editing by Nick Macfie

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