By Douglas Busvine
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) - Asia-Pacific nations have made a breakthrough in promoting trade in 'green' technology, and the United States is pressing ahead with efforts to carve out a regional free-trade zone, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.
Speaking before a summit of leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said the group had agreed to slash import duties on technologies that can promote economic growth without endangering the environment.
"This is really a significant achievement, in that it shows how APEC can lead," Marantis told Reuters in an interview after ministers finished their preparations for the summit on Saturday and Sunday in the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok.
"It allows us to accomplish the twin goals of liberalising trade and green growth."
Ministers agreed on a list of 54 green technologies that will be subject to import duties of 5 percent or less from 2015, following through on a commitment made by leaders at the last APEC summit in Honolulu a year ago.
According to summit documents seen by Reuters, the list includes equipment used in generating power from renewable energy sources such as the sun, wind and biomass; treating waste water; recycling and environmental monitoring.
Officials have described the clean technology initiative as a main summit "deliverable" for APEC, a consensus-based group that focuses on economic issues and links rising nations led by China with advanced economies such as the United States.
APEC accounts for 40 percent of the world's population, 54 percent of economic output and 44 percent of trade. Exports within the group are forecast by consultancy firm PwC to nearly treble over the next decade to $14.6 trillion while exports to non-APEC countries will double to $5.6 trillion, making the Pacific Rim the focus of global growth in the years to come.
APEC will next year tackle so-called local content requirements, which are in effect import restrictions that in the view of the United States distort trade.
The diverse nature of the Pacific-Rim economies, which unlike crisis-hit Europe are showing relatively strong growth, has led some APEC countries to join Washington in pushing for a new free-trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Marantis said trade ministers from nine nations participating in the TPP talks had met in Vladivostok and affirmed their determination to move ahead at negotiations to be hosted next week by the United States in Leesburg, Virginia.
The Leesburg talks will be the 14th round in a TPP process that was initiated by APEC leaders at a summit two years ago. Negotiators will seek to iron out further details of a 29-chapter multilateral free trade deal.
The TPP groups the United States, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Peru, while Canada and Mexico are due to be formally admitted to the discussions in October.
Marantis said the group was "working together to create a high-standard, 21st-century trade agreement that addresses a lot of problems that exporters are facing in a way that will grow jobs and create new opportunities for exporters."
There are no deadlines for finalising the TPP deal, but Marantis said negotiators were seeking to complete the bulk of their work next year.
"Substance will drive timing - that's what's really important," Marantis said. "If you look at how much progress we've been able to make in such a short amount of time we're working to wrap up as much as possible over the course of 2013."
The TPP ties in with President Barack Obama's goal of doubling U.S. exports within five years of his election in 2008, and has been described as the biggest free trade pact since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
China, the world's second-largest economy, is not a party to the process while APEC summit host Russia - which has only just joined the World Trade Organisation - says it is not ready to look at joining the TPP.
The Citizens Trade Campaign, a U.S. umbrella group, has criticised the TPP process as overly secretive and has called demonstrations against the Leesburg talks, fearing that a free trade deal could result in the loss of American jobs.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Lisa Shumaker)