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Trade Barriers, Pandemic Planning to Dominate APEC Summit


The South Korean city of Busan is in the global spotlight this week as it hosts a gathering of world leaders from the Asia-Pacific region. With the clock ticking on next month's deadline for a world trade agreement, and the potential threat of an avian flu pandemic, delegates face pressure to come to a meeting of the minds.

Buses unload South Korean policemen onto nearly every corner here in downtown Busan, while military boats cruise the scenic oceanfront. The high security is a reminder that global terrorism remains a major concern at this year's summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC.

Founded in 1989, APEC now has 21 member economies, which include most of eastern Asia, all of North America, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, and Chile. They account for 57 percent of the world's gross domestic product and almost half of global trade.

Business leaders, corporate executives, trade and foreign ministers are meeting and preparing the agenda for the leaders' meetings on Friday and Saturday.

They are working on APEC's aim of liberalizing by dropping international trade barriers. Ambassador Juan Carlos Capunay, a senior delegate from Peru, says there is also a broader mission.

"The need to accommodate the structure of the APEC region to the challenge of globalization … including not only education, but including also the different social aspects," said Mr. Capunay.

APEC is a voluntary organization and is not bound by a treaty. However, a sense of urgency pervades this year's summit to help pave the way for World Trade Organization treaty members to strike an agreement next month in Hong Kong.

Tariff barriers and agricultural subsidies continue to block progress on WTO free trade goals set on Doha (Qatar) in 2001. If there is no implementation by December, delegates fear the Doha agenda will suffer a fatal loss of momentum.

Another urgent issue this year is how to prepare for a possible human pandemic of avian influenza. Medical authorities say it is a question of when - not if - a highly lethal strain of bird flu known as H5N1 mutates into a form that can be passed from human to human.

Chou Jih-Haw, of Taiwan's Center for Disease Control, says APEC delegates must take this opportunity to agree on countermeasures. "If we can control a poultry outbreak very efficiently … I think we can mitigate the impact of bird flu very significantly," he said.

The United Nations has projected a flu pandemic could kill anywhere from five to 150 million people worldwide.

The streets of Busan remained quiet Monday, but police are on alert for protests later in the week. South Korean trade groups have vowed to mobilize tens of thousands of anti-globalization protesters to coincide with the arrival of President Bush on Wednesday and other heads of government.

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