Pacific Rim trade and foreign ministers agree to cooperate on bird flu

Pacific Rim trade and foreign ministers have agreed to cooperate in boosting preparedness against bird flu and fighting the virus, a senior South Korean official said Tuesday. The agreement outlining ways to reduce risks of the virus will be adopted later this week after review by leaders of the 21 member economies of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, said Kim Jong-hoon, South Korea's ambassador to the group.

Proposals in the agreement "primarily call on each member economy to recognize and develop capability" to deal with the danger posed by bird flu, Kim said. Other measures are information-sharing among countries and cooperation on developing a vaccine and medication against a possible bird flu-spawned pandemic.

Kim said earlier this week that APEC will organize a ministerial-level meeting on bird flu in the first half of next year, and consider a proposal to host an infectious diseases symposium in China, also in 2006.

Experts fear the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus that is sweeping across Asia could mutate into a version easily passed between humans, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions. At least 64 people have died in Southeast Asia from bird flu after contact with sick birds, and some 150 million birds have died or been culled.

Some ministers raised concerns about human-to-human spread of the virus, and called for "extra attention," Kim said.

APEC ministers held the first of two days of talks Tuesday to conclude a wide-ranging declaration on trade and other issues to be adopted by their countries' leaders at meetings Friday and Saturday, reports the AP. I.L.

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