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Asia-Pacific Leaders End Summit With Pledge for Freer Trade, Concern Over North Korea Test


President Bush has joined with leaders of 20 other Asia-Pacific economies in a pledge to advance stalled global trade talks. That pledge came Sunday at the close of the annual summit of APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping in Vietnam, where leaders also joined in expressing concern over North Korea's nuclear test.

The week-long annual meeting of Asia-Pacific business people and ministers aimed to break the impasse in world trade negotiations, which stalled in July, mostly over a dispute on farm subsidies that divide rich and poor countries.

At the close Sunday, leaders gathered for the traditional summit photo wearing Vietnamese outfits. Host Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet read the leaders' declaration, saying the 21 member economies must spare no effort to break the deadlock in global trade talks and achieve a balanced outcome.

He says his government will look at measures to promote regional economic integration to aid APEC's goal of liberalizing trade.

Those measures include removing obstacles for business, protecting copyrights, creating ways to fight health pandemics, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Vietnam hosted the APEC meeting days after it was admitted to the World Trade Organization, marking a major milestone for the communist country in its efforts to keep its economy booming, and open itself to foreign trade and investment.

Leaders also agreed to look for ways to start a U.S.-backed plan for a trans-Pacific free trade area that would stretch from China to Chile, and from Australia to Canada. Discussion of that plan is set to begin at next year's APEC meeting in Australia.

Regional security was another big theme, after North Korea's October 9 nuclear test. While not written in the final declaration, APEC leaders verbally expressed strong concern, and stressed the need for members to comply with U.N. sanctions imposed on the North.

Pledges made at APEC are non-binding. However, analysts see the gatherings as significant, considering that APEC economies account for roughly half of the world's Gross Domestic Product.

President Bush headed to Vietnam's bustling commercial center, Ho Chi Minh City - formerly Saigon - on Sunday, following a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country is one of the six participants in the North Korean nuclear disarmament talks.