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Stage Set for APEC Meeting Aimed at Breaking Global Trade Impasse


Vietnam is preparing to host the summit of leaders of 21 economies of the Asia-Pacific region on Saturday. The meeting will culminate on Sunday with a pledge by leaders to push harder for a deal to liberalize global trade.

The aim of the two-day Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit is to find ways to break an impasse in global trade talks deadlocked in a dispute over agricultural subsidies and barriers.

Much of the pressure for a global trade deal is coming from business leaders.

More than 1,000 corporate executives gathered as part of the APEC forum on Friday. HSBC President Michael Smith highlighted the growing opportunities that Asia-Pacific economies are yielding.

"These are exciting times in Asia," he said. "As we are all aware, the region is re-emerging economically, led by a rapidly growing China, an eager-to-catch-up India, a recovering Japan, and by robust economies such as Vietnam."

APEC members account for roughly half of the global GDP (gross domestic product) and include fast-growing economies like China and Vietnam, which has been growing at a rate of more than seven percent a year.

However, leaders also warned of challenges facing the region. Former World Trade Organization head Supachai Panitchpakdi said the Asia-Pacific region - which stretches from China to Chile - also suffers from tremendous inequality between rich nations and poor ones. He called on governments to make concessions on lowering trade barriers so that the so-called Doha round, a WTO program that aims to lift millions out of poverty through freer trade, can move ahead.

"At this meeting, in spite of the fact that Doha is under threat of failing, I don't think the global community, and not in the least the APEC community, which is so pro-trade, could afford to stand by and let the round go down the drain," said Supachai.

Chinese leader Hu Jintao addressed the business leaders on Friday, promising China would do its part to reduce trading obstacles. The Chinese leader pledged to speed up reforms to bring down the trade deficit that China has with several APEC members, including the United States.

The Chinese leader also promised his government would do more to open the Chinese economy further to foreign investment and protect copyrights.

The APEC summit ends Sunday with a declaration that is expected to include a pledge by leaders to break the impasse in global trade negotiations, as well as a commitment to fight terrorism and deal with climate change, environmental issues, and pandemics like bird flu.