Pressure is mounting on Japan to reach agreement with other Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum member countries on tariff liberalisation as the Economic Leaders meeting draws nearer. Yesterday, trade officials expressed veiled frustration at lingering hold-ups after their discussions on early voluntary sector liberalisation (EVSL) achieved little progress. Japan has been criticised for refusing to fall in line with the other 20 Apec members on liberalisation of the forestry and fish sectors. It was hoped that during the meeting an outcome would be reached on eight industrial and one services sector - including fish and forestry products - following meetings in June. Chairman of the Apec Senior Officials meeting, Malaysia's Abdul Razak Ramly, said there was 'almost consensus' on the nine trade sectors. But Japanese delegates at the talks said political concerns remained a sticking point, preventing them from giving consent. Japan is reported to be upset at attempts by the United States to tell it how to spend its US$30 billion aid package for Asia announced by Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa last month. It is believed Japan will also unveil a plan of aid and technical assistance for fishery and forestry sectors during the talks. While designed to appease its critics, the gesture is unlikely to quell protests about its intransigence on liberalisation in those sectors. Hong Kong's Director General of Trade, Alan Lai Nin, said that there was still time to achieve consensus, even at the last minute of talks. 'Every nation is at a different stage of economic development and facing different difficulties in individual sectors,' said Mr Lai. 'I think we have got to be optimistic all the time.' Trade officials will continue their negotiations today in preparation for the Apec Ministers' meeting, scheduled for the weekend, which will be followed by the Economic Leaders' meeting on Monday and Tuesday. It was originally intended that all 15 sectors agreed on for liberalisation in Vancouver last year would be liberalised between 2000 and 2004. Mr Ramly said some discussions about liberalisation of the other six sectors had also taken place during yesterday's meeting. Apart from the core issue of trade liberalisation, Apec leaders are expected to discuss the impact of the region's financial crisis and a recovery plan. The Apec leaders will also look at what steps can be taken to stabilise and strengthen the international finance system so future crises can be avoided.