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APEC Summit to Debate Trade Development

Members of APEC, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, account for about a third of the world's population and nearly half of global trade. Its 21 members include the United States, China, Japan and other nations on the Pacific Rim. On Friday and Saturday, APEC leaders will meet for their annual summit. VOA's Peter Fedynsky looks at some of the issues expected to be on agenda.

The two-day summit will be held in a new building on Dongbaek Island near the port city of Busan in South Korea. The new structure is named “Nurimaru,” which combines the Korean word nuri, or world, with maru, which means peak or summit.

Among the participants will be U.S. President George Bush, who left Washington on Monday for a weeklong trip to Asia. The president's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, says getting ready for World Trade Organization (WTO) talks heads the summit agenda.

He also listed, "Working to promote trade, to cooperate in the upcoming WTO ministerial in Hong Kong in December, to cooperate to respond to the risk of avian influenza, and continuing APEC's work to protect the region from security threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

The agenda outlined by Mr. Hadley is broader than in recent years, when U.S. security concerns dominated APEC summits following the September 11th terrorist attacks.

The South Korean hosts are stressing the importance of advancing a trade development agenda based on the so-called Doha Declaration, signed by the WTO in Qatar four years ago. That agenda is stalled in a dispute over domestic agriculture subsidies in wealthy countries that work to the disadvantage of poor nations.

South Korean APEC ambassador Kim Jong-Hoon said, " I believe that it's important to convey the message to the 149 economies of the WTO that this situation, the current situation, should not be tolerated and we should make the Doha development agenda successful within the given timeline."

However, some observers say that APEC is a weak forum that lacks serious commitment on the part of its members. Trade expert Claude Barfield at the American Enterprise Institute -- a Washington, D.C. think tank -- says the summit is not likely to produce much more than a statement.

"So, what you're going to get is pabulum [ineffective talk], actually, in terms of 'who could disagree with support of free trade and investment, etc. etc.?' But, not much action."

Mr. Barfield says it is in the U.S. interest not to allow APEC to be overtaken by ASEAN, another Asian trade organization that excludes the United States. He notes that China has worked quietly to strengthen ASEAN.

"It is in their interest to build an intra-Asian -- East Asian organization -- where they will be a dominant, if not the dominant force; they would compete with Japan obviously. And also this would undercut U.S. international economic and military interests down the road," said Mr. Barfield.

At least 40,000 police officers are deployed in Busan to maintain calm among anti-globalization protesters who have disrupted several previous international economic summits.

Meanwhile, global security is on the summit agenda, including avian flu, which has already killed millions of wild birds and farm poultry and could conceivably mutate into a deadly threat to humans.

Following the summit, President Bush is expected to further discuss some of the APEC agenda items, in particular intellectual property rights, in bilateral talks with Chinese leaders in Beijing.