APEC takes aim at bird flu, trade talks impasse


  • World
  • Saturday, 19 Nov 2005

By Lee Suwan and Sonya Hepinstall

PUSAN, South Korea (Reuters) - Pacific Rim leaders joined forces on Saturday to fight threats to their economies from a possible bird flu pandemic and high oil prices, and they pressed for an end to the deadlock in world trade talks. 

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum's 21 leaders also agreed at the end of a two-day summit on the need for more progress in resolving the North Korea nuclear crisis, a potential threat to the stability of their region. 

U.S. President George W. Bush (L), Australia's Prime Minister John Howard (C) and Peru's President Alejandro Toledo smile before they pose for a photo wearing traditional traditional Korean clothes, known as the "Hanbok", on the second day of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit Pusan, S. Korea November 19, 2005. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)

The group, which includes the United States, Japan, China and Russia, issued a statement of priorities after morning talks at a seafront retreat in the South Korean port city of Pusan. 

The leaders emerged into the sunlight for a group photo, each wearing a long Korean durumagi silk coat: U.S. President George W. Bush in blue, China's Hu Jintao in saffron and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in a silver matching his mane of hair. 

Koizumi was shunned by China at the meeting and he received a blunt lecture from South Korea over his repeated visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine that have revived memories of Japan's past militarism. 

"We must not let overall ties be damaged because of one problem or disagreement," Koizumi told a news conference later. 

The leaders vowed to bolster cooperation to fight bird flu and stage a "desktop" simulation drill in early 2006 to test regional responses and communication in the event of a pandemic. 

A lethal strain of the H5N1 virus has killed 67 of the 130 people it has infected in Asia since late 2003, but the real fear is that it will mutate and acquire the ability to pass from human to human, causing a global pandemic. 

"We agreed on collective, practical measures, including ... testing pandemic preparedness, beginning with a desktop simulation exercise in early 2006 to test regional responses and communication networks," the declaration said. 

TRADE DEADLOCK 

Highest on the agenda for APEC was the impasse in World Trade Organisation negotiations ahead of talks in Hong Kong next month. 

But the group -- which accounts for almost half of world commerce but includes countries that face domestic resistance to liberalising their own markets -- stopped short of naming the 25-nation European Union as the spoiler of the talks. 

The EU has been widely criticised for refusing to open its long-protected markets further to agricultural imports unless developing nations improve access for other goods and services. 

Australia and the United States had pointed a finger of blame at the EU in Pusan, and on Friday South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said bluntly "the ball is in Europe's court". But the summiteers made only an indirect reference to the EU's stand. 

APEC is sometimes dismissed as a talking-shop with little clout and an over-crowded agenda. While its leaders focused squarely on the biggest dangers to their economies, many of their promised initiatives appeared to fall short on detail. 

While they raised concern about high oil prices hurting their energy-hungry economies, for instance, they were not clear on how they planned to ease supply and demand strains beyond promising energy efficiency, conservation and diversification. 

However, they did agree to work more closely against terrorism, sharing intelligence, cutting off flows of funds and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

The streets around the summit venue -- tucked away safely on an islet around the corner from Pusan's biggest tourist draw, Haeundae beach -- were quiet under a heavy security cordon. 

Hundreds of protesters marched in the city, but there was no repeat of Friday's clashes between riot police and crowds demonstrating against globalisation and free trade. 

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun told a news conference the leaders wanted more substantive progress in six-country talks on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programmes, and added that an eventual deal could boost Northeast Asia's economy. 

"Once the six-party talks succeed this will give greater momentum to expanding the horizons of our dialogue into including a peace regime on the Korean peninsula as well as a multilateral security regime in the ... region as a whole," he said. 

(Additional reporting by Martin Nesirky, Elaine Lies, Jon Herskovitz, Paul Eckert, Jack Kim, Lee Jae-won and John Chalmers) 

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