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HIROSHIMA (Kyodo) Senior officials from Pacific Rim economies agreed Tuesday to accelerate economic integration in the region, including the creation of a free-trade area.

Ending a two-day meeting in Hiroshima, where Japan formally took up its chairmanship of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum for 2010, they also confirmed there is more work to be done, including assessing how much their trade has been liberalized and compiling an economic growth strategy, before APEC leaders gather for their summit later this year in Yokohama.

“We still have a long way to go but were able to make a good start,” one of the Japanese delegates said after the meeting.

The officials will next meet between May 24 and June 4, just ahead of an APEC trade ministers meeting in Sapporo. The annual APEC summit is scheduled for Nov. 13 and 14.

APEC, which accounts for half the world’s economic output and more than 40 percent of its trade value, groups Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

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