Free Trade in Pacific Gets Closer Leaders Promise Cuts in Regulation, Tariffs

Article excerpt

Pacific Rim leaders took another step Sunday toward building a free-trade zone, buoyed by China's promise to slash tariffs and ease foreign access to its fast-growing markets.

Their enthusiasm apparently undimmed by President Bill Clinton's absence because of America's budget crisis, leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting offered "down payments" on the pledge made last year to ease trade policies over the next quarter-century.

The pledges ranged from deregulating industries and lowering tariffs to trimming the red tape that bedevils regional trade.

The 18 APEC nations are the source of 50 percent of world trade. They include the world's two biggest economies - the United States and Japan - and one of its fastest-growing - China.

The APEC economic blueprint, adopted at last year's meeting, calls for free trade by 2010 for its richer member countries and by 2020 for the poorer ones. But as an economically diverse region, APEC is deeply split on the pace and scope of free trade, with China and Malaysia arguing that developing countries cannot march in step with industrialized ones.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin said developing nations "need more time since they face greater pressures, risks and difficulties. …