Despite doubts and dissent, Pacific Rim trade officials said Thursday they had agreed on major points of a deal to create a vast regional free-trade zone in the next 25 years.

At the same time, though, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum was dealt a blow just as it opened: The White House announced that President Clinton would bow out of a weekend summit of APEC leaders to deal with the budget standoff in Washington. Vice President Al Gore will take his place.The accord was announced after the first full session by ministers from the 18 APEC countries and followed weeks of wrangling over how flexible the group should be in making its sweeping free-trade aims a reality.

The goal is to set terms for three- to five-year plans on trade liberalization to be presented at next year's meeting in the Philippines. Most members also are unveiling more immediate market-opening steps as a sign of good faith. Participants say it's crucial to avoid backing off from a goal of free trade in developed countries in the region by 2010 and developing ones by 2020.

In the opening session, Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan had sought protection for their farmers, but participants said language was found that satisfied them as well as big food-producing countries that seek new markets.