Inaugurating APEC, Xi urges faster talks on China-backed free trade area

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2014 9:04 PM

BEIJING (Reuters) - The global economic recovery is unstable and nations in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) bloc should speed up free trade talks to spur growth, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the start of a summit of APEC leaders, Xi urged the meeting to speed up talks on a trade liberalization framework called the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP,) that is being pushed by Beijing.

"Currently, the global economic recovery still faces many unstable and uncertain factors. Facing the new situation, we should further promote regional economic integration and create a pattern of opening up that is conducive to long-term development," Xi said.

"We should vigorously promote the Asia-Pacific free trade zone, setting the goal, direction and roadmap and turn the vision into reality as soon as possible."

Some see a proposed study on the FTAAP plan, which will be presented to APEC leaders for approval, as a way to divert attention from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement being pushed by the United States. China is not part of the TPP, which seeks to establish a free-trade bloc stretching from Vietnam to Chile and Japan, encompassing about 800 million people and almost 40 percent of the global economy.

China has not been enthusiastic about the TPP, fearing that it is being used by Washington as a way to either force it to open markets by signing up or else isolate it from other regional economies as trade is diverted to TPP signatories.

The TPP is widely seen as the economic backbone of U.S. President Barack Obama's "pivot" to Asia, what some experts view as an attempt to balance China's rise by establishing a larger U.S. presence in the region, including military assets.

Xi was quoted by state news agency Xinhua on Monday as saying that FTAAP "does not go against existing free trade arrangements which are potential pathways to realize FTAAP's goals".

He said APEC's 21 economies should play a leading and coordinating role, break all sorts of shackles and usher in a new round of opening up, communication and integration.

To that end, China will contribute $10 million to support the APEC mechanism, for capacity building and to "carry out pragmatic cooperation in various fields.

APEC, which includes the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Canada, groups countries which account for 40 percent of the world's population, 54 percent of its economic output and 44 percent of trade.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Gui Qing; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)