Alexander Khitrov, Associated Press
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — Asia-Pacific leaders discussed ways to energize growth by opening markets wider to trade on Saturday, in talks overshadowed by longstanding territorial disputes.
Revitalizing growth is an urgent priority for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, whose aim is to dismantle barriers and bottlenecks that slow trade and business while nurturing closer economic ties.
Both China and host Russia pledged to do what they can to support those aims at a time when the global recovery is appears to be faltering. As usual at the consensus-led APEC summit, where most of the action was in various bilateral talks on the sidelines of the forum, leaders agreed to push ahead with long-term strategies to support sustainable growth.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak agreed to collaborate on resolving the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program, a key obstacle for developing a gas pipeline and rail links those two countries would like to build from Russia to Korea's Pacific coast, South Korea's presidential office said in a statement.
"Russia is ready to actively push forward with three-party collaboration for railroads, gas pipelines and power cables," the statement quoted Putin as telling Lee. He also said Russia could increase fishing quotas in exchange for more investment in its far eastern region.
Moscow aims to build the region around Vladivostok, a long-neglected seaport, into a hub that would tap into Asia's dynamic growth.
Asia remains the brightest spot in the global economy but is facing challenges, and trade is the solution, Putin told fellow leaders as they began their annual "informal retreat."
"The recovery of the global economy is faltering. We can only overcome negative trends by enhancing the volume of trade ... enhancing the flow of capital. It is important to follow the fundamental principles of open markets and free trade," Putin said.
"The priority goal is to fight protectionism in all its forms," Putin said. "It is important to build bridges not walls."
With President Barack Obama absent from the APEC summit this election season — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is attending in his place — the Russian leader has showcased his country's aspirations to play a more active role in the Pacific Rim region.
Clinton welcomed Russia's recent admittance to the World Trade Organization. America's exports to Russia could double or even triple as the country implements its commitments to open its markets further, while Russia itself could raise its GDP by about 11 percent in the long run, she said, citing World Bank estimates.
"Fostering a balanced and stable economy is a challenge too sweeping and complex for countries to approach in isolation," Clinton said. "If we do this right, globalization can become a race to the top, with rising standards of living and more broadly shared prosperity."
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whose father died Saturday while she was in Vladivostok for the APEC summit, missed the talks as she was preparing to return home.
Putin announced the news in explaining Gillard's absence as he convened the group's first session.
"A sad event has occurred in the family of one of our colleagues, the prime minister of Australia. Her father has passed away," Putin said as the leaders gathered around a large round table. "Therefore I allow myself to express condolences from all of us."
Russia's hosting of the APEC summit highlights a renewed focus on developing its neglected but resource-rich Far East, where it plans to develop modern railroads, seaports and airports to help build a bridge between Asia and Europe.
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