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APEC Summit Opens This Weekend


This weekend (Saturday and Sunday) APEC -- the 21 economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group -- is having a summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. The agenda includes creating a free-trade zone across the Pacific Ocean, dealing with potential epidemics such as bird flu, and fighting terrorism. APEC leaders also hope to restart world trade negotiations. But as VOA's Deborah Block reports North Korean nuclear issues threaten to overshadow the talks.

Security in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, was increased as the city prepared to receive many of the world's most powerful leaders for the APEC Summit. They include U.S. President George W. Bush, Chinese leader Hu Jintao, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The 21 APEC countries account for more than half of all world trade.

High on the summit's agenda is the controversy over North Korea and Iran's nuclear programs. Representatives from the United States, Australia and Japan held a meeting Thursday in Hanoi where they discussed their concerns.

Alexander Downer is Australia's Foreign Minister. "It was a very good opportunity to talk about where we're at in terms of North Korea and also Iran. This trilateral strategic dialogue is becoming an important component of the relations between Japan, the United States and Australia. We are three democracies, we have liberal economies, the United States has alliances with both Japan and Australia, so we have a lot of common views and significantly common outlook on some of the big issues facing the region."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week that North Korea must come to new disarmament talks ready to deal or their would be no point in holding the session.

But organizers hope trade issues will be at the forefront of the meeting whose major focus is expected to be the deadlocked Doha Development Agenda. The World Trade Organization plan would raise less developed nations out of poverty by increasing trade between poorer and richer countries. The latest round of talks on the strategy in July failed to reach an agreement on lowering import taxes and subsidies protecting farmers in the U.S. and Europe.

Jeffrey Schott works on international trade policy issues at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a private research firm in Washington. "In order to resume the negotiations, the major trading nations, the United States, European Union, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Brazil and others will have to commit the improve the offers they have on the table to reduce their trade barriers, to reduce their level of trade distorting subsidies, and to provide greater access to their markets for poorer countries."

The United States supports setting up a free trade zone across the Pacific Ocean. But the idea has sparked concern among some APEC members, who fear that businesses in less developed countries might not be able to compete with richer ones.

APEC leaders will also call for a regional approach to fight bird flu. They will encourage more involvement by the private sector to ensure business, trade and essential services will continue if there is an epidemic. Bird flu has killed at least 150 people worldwide since the virus first infected Asian poultry stocks in 2003.

Politically, Japan is likely to try to re-build strained relations with China and South Korea.

Since the 9/11 attacks in the United States, President Bush has used the annual meeting as a platform to discuss security issues. On his way to the APEC meeting in Hanoi, he stopped in Moscow to meet with President Putin, and then flew to Singapore where he attended a dinner with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. President Bush wants to reassure Asian allies that the U.S. has a long-term commitment to the region.

After the APEC summit, the president heads to Indonesia for talks Monday with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population and many are concerned about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Azyumardi Azra, president of the State Islamic University in Indonesia, thinks it is likely that conflict will be discussed. "We know that now the situation is far from being resolved in the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, so this is still one of the biggest problems that affects the Indonesian people's perception of the U.S. administration."

The U.S. and Indonesian leaders are expected to focus on terrorism, poverty, education and corruption.