Apec begins to flex its economic muscles

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Asian-Pacific leaders agree on need to reach Gatt accord but US and China remain far apart on trade and human rights
'THE meeting is the message' had become an overworked expression by the time President Bill Clinton and other Pacific leaders left Seattle at the weekend. It was employed before as well as after their informal get-together on an island in Puget Sound, and was resorted to by the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, to describe Mr Clinton's bilateral talks with President Jiang Zemin of China.
But the phrase was not completely without meaning. Before last week the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum was known to scarcely anyone, even in the economies belonging to it. President Clinton's idea of inviting heads of government to join him in the Pacific north-west has given the world a new acronym, Apec, and brought home to others - not least in Europe - the huge economic power represented by those four letters.
The 15 members of the forum, with Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Chile due to be added by next year's meeting, account for more than half the world's economic output and two-fifths of its trade. Their unequivocal call for the Uruguay Round of the Gatt trade talks to be completed by the 15 December deadline - the one tangible outcome of the gathering - will be impossible to ignore. There were warnings that Asian leaders would be uncomfortable with the notion of having to talk without a script at the informal meeting on Blake Island. But by all accounts they relaxed and began to engage in a genuine exchange of ideas. Despite resistance to creating a formal structure out of Apec, proposals to convene a meeting of finance ministers and to increase the involvement of the private sector were accepted.

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