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The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is a loose grouping of the countries bordering the Pacific Ocean who have pledged to facilitate free trade.
Its 21 members range from China and Russia to the United States, Japan and Australia, and account for 45% of world trade.
Progress on free trade initiatives was seriously dented by the 1997-98 Asian crisis, which hurt the economies of the fast-growing newly industrialised countries like South Korea and Indonesia, and the SARS epidemic of 2003.
But recently China suggested it would be interested in establishing a free-trade zone with the growing economies of South-east Asia.