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APEC Leaders Push For Free Trade, Global Solidarity Against Bird Flu

The push for a global free trade agreement dominated day one of the two-day summit of Asian and Pacific leaders. The leaders are urging Europe to make concessions toward market liberalization, and are also setting the stage for cooperation against a possible bird flu pandemic.

From free trade to public health issues, world leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum say they are committed to making the best of globalization.

Heads of government from APEC's 21 member economies, representing half the world's trade, say they are ready to put their weight behind stalled World Trade Organization talks.

WTO members are trying to implement a four-year-old agreement, but have been obstructed by, among other things, European Union agriculture subsidies.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon urged Europe to be more flexible. He described next month's WTO meeting in Hong Kong as a make-or-break event.

Mr. Ban says APEC leaders agree that if next month's meeting is not a success, it could be a very long time before free trade goals are implemented, if at all.

APEC leaders acknowledge that some key trade concessions also have to come from themselves. APEC members Japan and South Korea, for example, have some of the most protected agriculture markets in the world. In a telling sign of the issue's political sensitivity, two South Korean farmers have committed suicide in recent days to protest rice market liberalization.

The leaders are also discussing countermeasures against a possible epidemic of bird flu in human beings, which international health authorities have described as inevitable sooner or later.

Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono warned that bird flu would not just be a health disaster, but an economic one as well.

"The impact on our economies would be catastrophic," he said. "Transportation, tourism, trade, investment, manufacture, agriculture, consumer confidence would be severely affected…None of us can afford this."

During the scheduled second day of meetings on Saturday, APEC leaders are expected to endorse a statement urging progress towards a WTO agreement next month.

Meanwhile, an overwhelming police presence in Busan appears to have had its desired effect.

Anti-globalization protests Friday were vocal, but far smaller than feared. An estimated 4,000 people took to the streets, compared with predictions by activist groups that up to 100,000 protesters would turn out.

At one point, several hundred protesters tried to break through barriers around the summit site, but they were driven back by water cannon. However, most of the protests were peaceful.