World Economy

US Sticks to Own Free Trade Vision

US Sticks to Own Free Trade Vision US Sticks to Own Free Trade Vision

Washington will prioritize its own plans for an Asia-Pacific free trade agreement, a top US official said on Sunday, even as China seeks to elevate a broader vision for the region.

The rival trading powers’ ideas on opening markets have injected an element of discord at the annual gathering of leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) bloc, hosted this year by Beijing, AFP reported.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman said Washington would remain focused on plans it is pursuing outside APEC for a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which excludes China.

“TPP of course is the major focus of our economic pillar of the rebalance to this region,” he said, referring to the Obama administration’s stated intention to give greater attention to the Asia-Pacific.

“Our priority is clearly TPP.”

  China Touts Another

China, however, wants the 21-member APEC meeting to endorse a stronger commitment to the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) idea, a longer-term concept for the entire region that would build on the TPP and other free-trade initiatives.

Some Chinese analysts have framed TPP as an attempt to check Beijing’s growing economic clout – allegations Washington dismisses.

In the lead-up to APEC, China’s official media have touted FTAAP as a solution to the current “spaghetti bowl” of free trade proposals, an apparent swipe at TPP.

A draft APEC summit communique calls for steps to “translate the FTAAP from a vision to reality”, and agrees to launch a “strategic study” on how to achieve that.

But Froman stressed that did not signify “the launch of a new organization, it’s not the launch of a new FTA (free trade area)”.

“It’s a reaffirmation of a long-term aspiration for the region that’s to be achieved through other ongoing negotiations,” he said on the sidelines of the meeting.

“And we certainly view TPP as our contribution to expanding trade and integrating the region.”

The TPP discussions, however, have run into snags amid resistance by some prospective members – notably Japan – to opening domestic markets too widely.

Officials once voiced hopes of concluding a deal by the end of last year, but secretive negotiations have dragged on.

Froman said recent talks have made “very significant progress”, but refused to be drawn on a timetable for completing the process.

Despite the communique’s prominent mention of FTAAP, it avoided China’s calls for a “feasibility study”, which would have signified a faster track for the concept, and makes no mention of a target date.

  Asia-Pacific Dream

President Xi Jinping offered the world a vision of a Chinese-driven “Asia-Pacific dream” on Sunday at the regional gathering.

“We have the responsibility to create and realize an Asia-Pacific dream for the people of the region,” the Chinese Communist chief told a gathering of business and political leaders that precedes the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ gathering.

Xi’s “Asia-Pacific dream” comments have echoes of the “Chinese dream” he has regularly spoken of, an unspecified but much-discussed term with connotations of national resurgence.

Beijing – a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council – is leveraging the decades-long boom that has made it the world’s second-largest economy to increase its regional and global heft.

But it stresses a policy of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs – a stance that has enabled it to do business with leaders seen as pariahs in West.