November 18, 2005

APEC leaders tackle trade, bird flu

By John Chalmers and Martin Nesirky

PUSAN, South Korea (Reuters) - The leaders of 21 Pacific
Rim economies began talks under tight security in this southern
port city on Friday to shore up flagging talks on a global free
trade pact and hammer out moves to fight bird flu.

Police moved effectively to block rallies that activists
had said would involve 100,000 people opposed variously to U.S.
forces in South Korea, globalization and North Korea.

As of mid-afternoon, witnesses said only about 5,000
laborers and farmers had been able to gather in two separate

Dismissed by some as a toothless talking shop, the two-day
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is determined to make
its voice heard on global concerns, including corruption, the
threat of terrorism and dealing with natural disasters.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said he planned to
unveil a "significant initiative" to halt the spread of bird
flu, which experts say could kill millions if it becomes a

But top of the APEC agenda was how to advance talks on the
Doha trade round, which have stalled over the European Union's
refusal to make further cuts in import tariffs on farm goods
without offers from developing countries of more market access.

The World Trade Organization had hoped for an outline
agreement to be reached in Hong Kong next month, paving the way
for a deal next year, but that meeting now looks set to be a
staging post rather than a milestone because of the impasse.

"We cannot afford another failure which could lead to
increased trade protectionism around the world," Thai Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told a parallel meeting of APEC
business leaders in Pusan. "This is dangerous to all, and very
dangerous to developing countries."

He was referring to two earlier failures -- Seattle in 1999
and Cancun in 2003 -- that set back the cause of free trade.

Australia and the United States sought at pre-summit talks
this week to single out the 25-nation EU as the spoiler, and
Howard pressed that point home at the CEOs' meeting on Friday.

"It's not being melodramatic to say that unless there is a
very significant shift in the attitude of some countries we are
not going to have a successful Doha trade round," he said.

"We are not going to get anywhere unless there is a
significant matching of what the Americans have put on the
table by the Europeans," he told reporters in a briefing later.


But with some APEC countries facing domestic resistance to
liberalisation of their own markets, the 21 leaders were
expected to stop short of mentioning the EU in their final

Anger over plans to open up South Korea's rice market was
to have been be the focus of huge protests planned in Pusan on
Friday. But local media said police had withdrawn a permit to
rally at the last minute and were preventing protesters from
even gathering.

Some 30,000 police officers were on duty in the city of 3.7
million people, Secret Service agents were on alert at U.S.
President George W. Bush's hotel and a naval cordon guarded the
domed sea-front retreat where leaders will meet on Saturday.

Mushroom wine and chestnut porridge will be on the menu at
the summit dinner on Friday and there will be a performance by
teenage pop star BoA, a top-selling artist whose face has been
used to sell Japanese cars and South Korean mobile phones.

The leaders were due to have bilateral meetings on the
sidelines in Pusan on Friday, including Japanese Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi and Roh.

Koizumi has angered South Korea and China with his repeated
visits to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, where convicted war
criminals are honored along with Japan's war dead.

"I would like to hold talks based on the recognition that
we need to develop friendly relations while looking at the
whole (picture) and not just one portion," Koizumi told
reporters on Friday ahead of his departure.

(additional reporting by Sonya Hepinstall, Jon Herskovitz,
Ed Davies and Steve Holland)