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By Paula Wolfson
White House
21 November 2008

U.S. President George Bush is in Peru for his final Pacific Rim summit. After his arrival Friday, Mr. Bush met with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Lima ahead of the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which opens Saturday. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports this is expected to be Mr. Bush's last foreign trip before leaving office.

President Bush (left) with Chinese President Hu in Peru at APEC summit, 21 Nov 2008
President Bush (left) with Chinese President Hu in Peru at APEC summit, 21 Nov 2008
President Bush attended his first Pacific Rim summit just two months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Now, with the nation in the midst of a financial crisis, he is making his last appearance at the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

White House aides say the president will urge APEC to endorse steps already being taken to boost the global economy. They indicate he will likely focus on the need to expand trade worldwide and open markets.

Charles Freeman is a former U.S. trade official. He says even though Mr. Bush has little time left in office, his words can have an impact at the forum.

"Well, I mean, words count," Freeman said. "So I think what the leadership says about trade liberalization is very important. And standing up for that is key."

The Pacific Rim countries account for about half of the world's trade and population. And the number of bilateral and free trade agreements between and among APEC members has soared in recent years.

APEC is not a formal organization or a negotiating body, but a venue for leaders to come together to exchange thoughts and ideas. And while it does not have the clout of the Group of 20 leading industrialized and emerging economies, it is an instrument of dialog in a key region of the world.

Steven Schrage, an expert on international business and trade at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says the Pacific Rim is vitally important.

"You've got 60 percent of U.S. exports, 60 percent of world GDP [i.e., gross domestic product]. I believe it is over 50 percent of world trade, three billion consumers - so there is a critical mass of world leaders here with some of the most advanced and important economies," Schrage said.

The APEC forum also gives Pacific Rim leaders a chance to hold numerous one-on-one meetings on the sidelines. President Bush, for example, is expected to confer with the leaders of China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and host Peru.

While it will be an opportunity to say his farewells, aides say Mr. Bush has a full agenda for these meetings. They say he wants to discuss North Korea's nuclear ambitions with others involved in the negotiating process with Pyongyang. And they say he wants to discuss Georgia and a proposed missile defense system for Europe with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

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