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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

APEC: Onward to Global Free Trade

BOGOR, Indonesia -- The Asia-Pacific region on Tuesday moved a big step toward creating the world's largest free-trade area by the year 2020.

At a 5 1/2 hour summit in the colonial retreat of Bogor, 60 kilometers from Jakarta, leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum said their economies -- responsible for half the globe's commerce -- would show the world the way to a free-trade era.

"Our goal is an ambitious one. But we are determined to demonstrate APEC's leadership in fostering further global trade and investment liberalization," the Bogor declaration said.

"We will start our concerted liberalization process from the very date of this statement."

Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating was ebullient. It was "an absolute triumph for Asia-Pacific, it's a triumph for the world trading system and it's a triumph for Australia," he told a news conference.

U.S. President Bill Clinton also celebrated. "This agreement is good news for the countries of this region and especially good news for the United States and its workers," he told reporters.

The pact was seen as a major achievement for Indonesian President Suharto, who had been embarrassed by East Timorese protests during preparations for the summit.

He was a strong proponent of trade liberalization targets and was clearly delighted with the summit. "The advanced countries will achieve this objective no later than the year 2010 and the developing countries no later than the year 2020," said Suharto, flanked by his 17 colleagues, all in colorful batik shirts.

Before the formal agreement, the timetable had been controversial, with some countries -- particularly China and Malaysia -- resisting deadlines.

The final declaration answered the objections by specifying different dates for different types of economies.

The summit has had to share the stage with East Timorese protests in Jakarta and in the remote province 2,000 kilometers away. Clinton made clear the issue was firmly on his agenda for talks with Suharto during his state visit Wednesday, and told a news conference he had long believed "the people of East Timor should have more say over their own affairs."

As the leaders debated at the imposing presidential summer palace at Bogor, hundreds of banner-waving students demonstrated in the East Timor capital Dili. Exhausted East Timorese bedding down at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta for a fourth night said they were seeking asylum in Portugal -- but wanted to see Clinton first.

Portugal said it was willing to accept the 29 dissidents.

Though Suharto had little control over the protests, he made sure nothing was left to chance for the summit in the white Dutch colonial-era building. With Bogor's reputation as the wettest place on earth, summit organizers hired a rain man to keep Mother Nature at bay.

Irawan Abidin, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that a man known as a Pawang Hujan, or rain shaman, was called in several times before the event to meditate and pray. He was completely successful.