East Asian leaders focus on emissions, free trade

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SINGAPORE, Nov 21 (Reuters) Asian leaders today put discord over Myanmar behind them on Wednesday to hammer out a common position on climate change at their annual summit, which is also seeking to free up trade and investment in the region.

The Association of South East Asian Nations, which yesterday signed a landmark charter on Tuesday aiming for economic integration, is meeting leaders from Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand in the annual ''ASEAN+6'' meeting, also called the East Asia Summit.

Japan is proposing to cut emissions and give incentives to developing-nation polluters, a move analysts say could complement the UN Kyoto Protocol, while China's premier Wen Jiabao will speak on his country's climate change policy.

''China is determined to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20 percent in five years,'' Wen told reporters. ''We can also reduce emissions of carbon dioxide through reforestation and reducing population.'' China's energy efficiency is one-tenth of leader Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda will pledge more than 1.8 billion dollar in loans for environmental projects in Asia during the meeting, Japanese media say, to finance projects such as sewage disposal and scrubbing of sulphur dioxide from power plant chimneys.

Analysts say Japan is trying to form an Asian consensus that would be the basis for negotiations at U.N. climate talks in Bali next month that aim to find a successor to Kyoto, whose emissions targets end in 2012.

''The climate change declaration coming out of the East Asia Summit will make the Bali meeting easier. There has been aturning of the tide in China and India's position,'' said Alexander Downer, Australia's foreign minister, adding negotiations would still take a couple of years.

FUKUDA'S DEBUT Japan, as host to next year's Group of Eight summit, where global warming is expected to be a top agenda item, is keen to be seen taking leadership on the issue.

But Japan, the world's fifth-biggest greenhouse gas emitter and the only country in Asia with a Kyoto target, is itself still far from hitting its goal, while top polluters United States and China have no caps under Kyoto.

''Other countries import a lot of products from China so the notion is that they should be responsible for some of the emissions made by China,'' said Yonghun Jung of the Asia Pacific Energy Research Centre in Tokyo.

UN envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari was planning to brief the East Asia Summit on Myanmar, but Myanmar opposed that and Gambari is talking to individual delegations instead.

''Progress on Burma...has been as slow as glue up a hill,'' said Downer. ''Burma needs a dose of good economic management.'' ASEAN is negotiating free trade with all ASEAN+6 members, with a China-ASEAN deal possible by 2010. But a deal with India has stalled over agricultural tariffs, while all bets are off on deals with the United States, the EU and Australia since they have sanctions on Myanmar.

''The agreement with China is the most advanced and nearing completion,'' said Rodolfo Severino, former Secretary-General of ASEAN from 1998-2002.

The new ASEAN charter calls for human rights and democracy, but offers little in the way of enforcement. It also sets out an an economic blueprint with timetables for trade reform.

REUTERS SG VC1145

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