Asia-Pacific leaders, including US President George Bush and China's Hu Jintao, sought to breathe life into stalled global trade negotiations at an annual summit with a statement calling for a breakthrough in a stalemate with Europe over agricultural subsidies.

The 21 APEC leaders also promised on Saturday to boost cooperation on fighting terrorism and preparing for a possible flu pandemic.

They urged further progress at international talks seeking to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

"The North Korean nuclear issue is a factor of security anxiety not just for South and North Korea, but also a factor of anxiety that affects the whole of Northeast Asia," South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said after the meeting.

Standoff

If the standoff is resolved, Roh said, peace and economic cooperation would expand between the Koreas and spread throughout the region.

In a speech to US troops at Osan Air Base south of the capital, Seoul, Bush avoided direct mention of the North Korea nuclear issue.

But he made a thinly veiled reference to Kim Jong Il's totalitarian government as he praised democratic South Korea.

US President Bush (L) praised
South Korea's President Roh (R)

The South "is now a beacon of liberty that shines across the most heavily armed border in the world. It is a light reaching to a land shrouded in darkness," Bush said.

"Together the United States and [South Korea] have shown that the future belongs to freedom, and one day all Koreans will enjoy the blessings of freedom."

The trade issue dominated the two-day APEC summit, which occurred three weeks before a key World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong.

The leaders, who clearly identified Europe as responsible for the deadlock on the sidelines of APEC, stopped short of naming the continent in their statement on the trade talks.

Politically sensitive

Officials said it was too politically sensitive to do so. "We urge all other WTO members, and especially those that have the largest stake in the global trading system and derive the biggest benefits therefrom, to show the flexibilities needed to move the negotiations forward," the leaders said.

They said "significant progress must be made" in Hong Kong to advance the WTO's Doha round.

 

"There is more at stake here than just another phase of economic liberalisation," the leaders said. "A successful conclusion of the Doha round is crucial for the future credibility of WTO and the rules-based multilateral trading system."

 

APEC's bird flu plan "commits our economies to effective surveillance, transparency and openness, and close domestic, regional and international coordination and collaboration"

APEC statement

Counterterrorism, bird flu, energy security and other issues were dealt with in a separate statement adopted in a cupcake-shaped villa on the South Korean coast named Nurimaru, or "pinnacle of the world".

The agreements were announced after the leaders posed for a photo in traditional South Korean silk overcoats called durumagi.

Fears of a possible human pandemic spawned by bird flu have grown in recent days with China announcing its first human cases.

Under a new bird flu initiative, APEC countries committed to openness and information sharing, and said they would conduct a simulation exercise early next year to test responses to a possible pandemic.

APEC's bird flu plan "commits our economies to effective surveillance, transparency and openness, and close domestic, regional and international coordination and collaboration," the leaders' statement said.

Condemning terrorism, the leaders said they would seek to dismantle terrorist groups and counter threats from weapons of mass destruction.

They also launched an initiative to protect intellectual property, seeking to stem counterfeit goods and software piracy, and said they would find ways to offset the effects of high oil prices.

Protests


About 1000 anti-globalisation protesters tried to march to the meeting venue but were blocked by security forces and dispersed peacefully after several hours.

Anti-APEC and anti-Bush
protesters gathered in Busan

On Friday, police clashed with activists from a crowd of about 4000 protesters who failed to disrupt the meeting.

The leaders said on Saturday that the WTO's Doha round "must be carried to a successful conclusion ... by the end of 2006".


Unblocking disputes over agriculture are the key, without which "we cannot make progress in the round as a whole," the leaders' statement said. "Avoiding or compromising our ambition on this issue would mean that we would lower expectations for the round as a whole".

Australia and Canada wanted the statement to name Europe as the main obstacle in the WTO, but other leaders objected because they did not want to single out any country or region for criticism, officials said.

"You don't have to name names, it's quite obvious who are the people" the statement will be directed at, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo told The Associated Press.