Asian, American leaders back free trade to ease crisis

Sat Nov 22, 2008 5:39pm EST
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By Paul Eckert and Dana Ford

LIMA (Reuters) - Leaders from Asia and the Americas promised on Saturday to push for a global free trade deal and reform international lenders in an effort to keep the world from sliding into a deep recession.

U.S. President George W. Bush, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and other members of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, or APEC, said they would refrain from raising trade barriers over the next 12 months.

They also supported overhauls of the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, and the World Bank at a time when more countries need emergency bailouts to avert devastating economic turmoil.

"The current situation highlights the importance of ongoing financial sector reforms in our economies," the leaders said at the mid-point of a two-day summit meeting at a fortified defense compound in Peru's capital, Lima.

On his last scheduled trip abroad before handing over power to President-elect Barack Obama on January 20, Bush joined his APEC peers in rejecting protectionism as an option if economies worsen.

The leaders also committed to a breakthrough in the stalled Doha round of trade talks before the end of this year.

"It's important for us to continue to work together in this time of economic turmoil," Bush said earlier on Saturday.

The APEC group accounts for more than half of global output and includes countries such as Russia, Indonesia, Australia, Canada and Mexico.   Continued...

<p>U.S. President George W. Bush and Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev meet in Lima November 22, 2008. Both leaders are in the country for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque</p>