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Bush issues Apec free trade call

George Bush addresses the Apec summit

US President George W Bush has urged Asia-Pacific leaders to rely on "the power of free markets" to solve the current global financial crisis.

He told an Apec summit in Peru that countries should resist the temptation to retreat into protectionism.

He also strongly criticised the US Congress for going into recess without approving free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.

It was Mr Bush's last scheduled foreign trip as US president.

He told the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Lima that he would "push hard" in his last two months in office to secure a deal to help complete the stalled Doha round of World Trade Organisation talks.

'Strangle growth'

"I recognise that I'm leaving office in two months but nevertheless this administration will push hard to put the modalities in place so that Doha can be completed and so we send a message we refuse to accept protectionism in the 21st century," Mr Bush said.

He spoke passionately about his belief in the free market despite the recent world economic downturn, and called for an Asia-Pacific region of "free markets, free trade and free people".

One of the enduring lessons of the Great Depression is that global protectionism is a path to global economic ruin
George W Bush

He said that free markets had come under criticism in the current crisis and that sometimes government intervention was essential, but he added: "It is also essential that governments resist the temptation to overcorrect by imposing regulations that would stifle innovation and strangle growth.

"One of the enduring lessons of the Great Depression is that global protectionism is a path to global economic ruin," he added.

Mr Bush told the summit of 21 Pacific-rim countries that when he took office, the US had free-trade agreements with only three countries but that number had since grown to 14.

He said he was "extremely disappointed" that the US Congress had adjourned without passing three pending deals with Colombia, South Korea and Panama.

He was strongly applauded when he praised Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, saying: "Congress and our government must never turn its back on such a friend as Uribe."

Mr Bush also said it was important for nations to complete the stalled Doha round of global free-trade talks.

Apec nations are expected to endorse a promise to finish a framework for the Doha talks by the end of December.

Those talks - which began seven years ago - stalled over disputes between developed nations and developing countries.

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