BUSAN, South Korea, Nov 12 (AFP): Asian and Pacific nations worked Saturday to ease the deadlock in troubled global trade talks and agreed joint measures to help prevent a possible bird flu pandemic and efforts to combat terrorism.
The 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum began talks in the South Korean city of Busan amid gloomy predictions about the December 13-18 World Trade Organisation talks in Hong Kong.
A US official said the fate of the 2001 Doha round of WTO talks, which has foundered mainly over trade-distorting agricultural subsidies in rich countries, would dominate discussions over the coming week.
"The biggest issue right now is what to do about the WTO. The WTO is the highest priority facing APEC," said the official, asking to remain anonymous.
A Southeast Asian official said it was vital the Hong Kong talks were not seen as a failure and that APEC officials were working on a "short and punchy" statement urging all sides in the dispute to make concessions before the meeting.
Powerful developing countries such as Brazil and India argue that farm subsidies in rich nations-the United States and the European Union in particular-depress global farm prices and prevent growers in poor nations from competing.
But the divisions also cut across rich nations, with the EU under fire from the United States and Australia, and Japan, Norway and Switzerland saying they are wary of the impact of tariff cuts on their farm sectors.
APEC officials also discussed bird flu. The H5N1 strain of the virus has killed more than 60 people since 2003, but experts fear it could mutate into a more lethal strain that could cause a global pandemic.
The officials also discussed stockpiling of the drug Tamiflu and the extension of licencing requirements and relaxing of intellectual property regulations on the drug.
Officials from the 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum met in the South Korean city of Busan to prepare for next week's summit bringing together world leaders such as US President George W Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Another official involved in Saturday's talks said discussions would focus on how APEC countries would respond to a pandemic and plans for an APEC-wide mock exercise simulating a human-to-human outbreak.
Plans for the exercise were agreed at an APEC meeting in Australia last month but no date was set.
Meanwhile, activists opposed to free trade said Saturday they hoped to bring 100,000 protestors into the streets here to oppose an Asia Pacific leaders' summit.
Some 80 protest leaders said they would organise regular street rallies throughout the week of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings which opened earlier Saturday.
The biggest protest rally would coincide with the opening day of a two-day summit bringing together 21 regional leaders including US President George W Bush on November 18.
"100,000 on the streets on the 18th," the umbrella group representing students, farmers and workers organisations said in a statement released at a rally of protest leaders outside the venue for the summit.
"No APEC, No Bush," the demonstrators chanted as riot police formed a human wall between the demonstration and the APEC venue.
In their statement, the activists said APEC had become a tool for US multinationals seeking to expand their dominance in the world market "under the pretext of trade liberalisation."