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Asian-Pacific nations knit trade policy Conference sees closer community


BLAKE ISLAND, Wash. -- Leaders representing 2 billion people and half of the world's output committed themselves yesterday to global growth through increased economic cooperation.

"We've agreed that the Asian-Pacific region should be a united one, not divided," said President Clinton, summarizing for the other leaders after an unprecedented gathering on this Puget Sound island. "We've agreed that our economic policies should be open, not closed."

In a "joint vision statement," the leaders -- heads of the 14-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum -- also pledged their "utmost efforts" for a successful conclusion to world trade talks by its Dec. 15 deadline.

The reference to the the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was an apparent effort to increase pressure on Europe, particularly France, to lower agriculture subsidies. Progress on GATT has been an underlying theme here.

"We are trying to give energy through our meeting here and through our clear statement again that we want the Asian-Pacific region to be united, not divided economically; open, not closed; and committed to GATT," said Mr. Clinton.

The gathering brought together the United States, China, Japan, Canada and 10 other Pacific nations under the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. For the United States, the APEC conference marked an economic shift toward Asia and less emphasis on Europe.

"Our economies are moving toward interdependence, and there is a growing state of community among us," said the APEC statement. "We are united in our commitment to create a stable and prosperous future for our people."

In a series of modest specific steps, the leaders agreed to convene a meeting of APEC finance ministers to consult on broad economic issues. They also agreed to create a private-sector Pacific Business Forum and an APEC Education Program.

Differences deflected

The APEC statement clouded sharp differences over the speed at which the Pacific nations should move toward a completely open trading system and made no mention of deep U.S.-China disagreement over tying Beijing's human rights record to trade.

President Clinton acknowledged that the APEC members will not always agree on how to achieve the group's economic goals, but added, "At least now, for the first time, our region has a means to hold serious policy discussions on such questions as how to remove trade barriers or how to sustain robust growth."

APEC accounts for about 50 percent of world trade and more than $13 trillion in output. It groups Australia, Canada, Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.

In his comments to the other summit leaders, Mr. Clinton said Americans think the international trading system has to work more in their favor. The only way advanced nations can achieve this, he said, was through economic cooperation and continued trade and market expansion.

China takes its stand

China's President Jiang Zemin used the opportunity to lay out just how broad a relationship existed between his nation and the other APEC members. His speech at the conference, the only one formally released to the press, seemed to be an effort to show how much cooperation would be lost if the United States were to suspend most-favored-nation trade status toward China because of Beijing's human rights abuses.

"China cannot develop in isolation of the world," he said, according to a published text of his remarks. "The world equally needs China for development."

A senior administration official acknowledged that revocation of China's favored trade status with the United States "would be an important step," but added, "It's important to us that we have progress in human rights so we can continue our important economic relationship."

On Friday, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Jiang held talks, the highest-level contact between China and the United States since the 1989 shooting of pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Mr. Jiang stuck by his insistence that no country should be allowed to interfere in another nation's internal affairs.

Asked about difficult U.S.-Japanese trade relations, Mr. Clinton yesterday predicted progress "by next June or July, certainly by a year from now" on efforts to trim the huge U.S.-Japan trade imbalance -- $49.6 billion last year.

Mr. Clinton also said South Korean President Kim Young Sam would meet with him in Washington on Tuesday to discuss an initiative to try to open North Korean nuclear sites to international inspection.

U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor and Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown announced that the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) would establish the U.S.-ASEAN Alliance for Mutual Growth. The United States has a $12 billion trade deficit with ASEAN nations -- Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Brunei. There are fears among ASEAN officials that their nations will be left behind in APEC plans by the United States, China and Japan.

Of the move toward freer trade with Asia, Mr. Kantor said, "Like a train leaving a station, I think you will see it going faster and faster and faster."

Breaking the ice

The session on Blake Island, eight miles from downtown Seattle, was the kind of gathering at which administration officials believe Mr. Clinton is at his best.

Preceded by what administration officials called an "ice-breaking" -- dinner Friday night -- the meeting yesterday had no set agenda and few, if any, subordinates.

It began with brief statements from each leader on domestic priorities and a more general discussion of ways they could act in unison.

The leaders reached Blake Island, a forested state park populated with deer, mink and eagles, by ferry. Mr. Clinton, wearing a brown and green plaid shirt, brown trousers and boots, greeted his guests at the pier holding his familiar morning coffee in a paper cup. The 473-acre island is said to be the birthplace of Chief Seattle.

After the APEC talks, Mr. Clinton was scheduled to go to San Francisco to attend an evening fund-raiser for Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

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