- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

BUSAN, South Korea — President Bush today joined leaders from 20 other Pacific Rim nations to begin two days of talks on ways to open global trade, combat bird flu and coordinate anti-terrorism measures.

The summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in South Korea’s largest port city, perhaps best known for the matching costumes leaders wear at the end of talks, is striving this year to present a unified front on trade.

APEC leaders — whose 21 countries account for about half the world’s trade — are expected to call for progress toward a global trade agreement at next month’s round of the stalled World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Hong Kong.

APEC represents “a significant bloc in the WTO membership,” said Faryar Shirzad, White House deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. “And so when they speak and lay out an agenda of ambition, it’s an agenda that the membership at the WTO takes note of and helps drive the negotiating dynamics in a constructive way.”

The global free-trade pact aims for the elimination of export subsidies by 2010, but world leaders have been reluctant to sign on until they find the agreement advantageous to their own nations.

The so-called Doha Development Agenda trade round in Hong Kong, which economists say could boost global growth and lift millions of people out of poverty, also has stalled, with leaders concluding a meeting in Geneva this month by acknowledging a deadlock in talks.

APEC leaders, however, are unified about avian flu, which is just beginning to spread across Asia and threatens to become a major epidemic. The H5N1 virus already has infected at least 126 persons in Asia and has killed more than half of them.

All but four of the deaths from bird flu since 2003 have been recorded in APEC member countries — Thailand, Indonesia, China and Vietnam, which has been hit the worst.

“Every nation in the world has an interest in helping to detect and contain any outbreak before it can spread,” Mr. Bush said in Kyoto, Japan, before coming to South Korea.

Mr. Bush met today with Southeast Asian leaders, whom he urged to unite to fight terrorism in the region.

Later, he will talk about terrorism in a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Administration officials said Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin also will discuss Iran’s nuclear programs. Over U.S. objections, Russia is building a nuclear reactor for a power plant in Iran, an $800 million project the United States fears could be used to help develop nuclear arms.

This city of about 4 million virtually has been locked down, with nearly 50,000 police officers and soldiers patrolling mostly deserted streets.

Thousands of South Korean farmers protesting the opening of rice markets clashed with police this week in Seoul, and activists said that as many as 100,000 protesters will descend on Busan for a similar protest today.

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