|Page (1) of 1 - 11/12/11||email article||print page|
Push for free trade bloc gains traction as Pacific rim leaders seek ways to fend off recession
HONOLULU (AP) ' Leaders working to forge a Pacific free trade bloc plan to announce an outline for achieving that goal at the annual Asian-Pacific summit this weekend, one of many initiatives aimed at keeping growth on track and fending off recession.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk ended a meeting of regional trade ministers with praise for Japan's decision Friday to join negotiations on the free trade arrangement that is viewed by many in the region as a basic building block for an eventual free trade zone encompassing all of Asia and the Pacific Rim.
The so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership is intended to complement other efforts to promote freer trade, and that other countries can join if they are willing to meet the very high standards required, Kirk said.
At their summit, the leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will endorse a range of "meaningful steps which will strengthen regional economic integration and expand trade," he said.
Those include better food security, increased trade and investment in environmental products and services, better access to financing for small and medium-size companies, faster customs clearance and greater harmony in regulatory standards.
Such moves are intended to eliminate barriers and bottlenecks that could slow business at a time when the world economy most needs dynamism in the Asian-Pacific region to offset the malaise spreading from crisis-stricken Europe.
Japan has announced no timetable for joining the trans-Pacific free trade group, only its intention to join, a senior Japanese government official said Friday.
But the inclusion of the world's third-largest economy would vastly expand the reach of the trade pact, which now includes the smaller economies of Chile, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore. The U.S., Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Peru are negotiating to join.
To participate, Japan will have to eliminate tariffs on imports from all member economies ' a reciprocal move that its major manufacturers say will improve access to foreign markets and help keep the country from falling behind regional trading rivals.
Japan's trade minister, Yukio Edano, who backed the decision to join, said his government was well aware of the challenges it will face. But he has argued that by delaying further, Tokyo would lose the opportunity to help shape the trading bloc from the start.
China, the world's second-biggest economy, has appeared tepid toward the plan, with an official saying in Beijing earlier this week that it might be "overly ambitious."
Asked its stance, Chen Deming, the trade minister, said China expected Japan to live up to earlier pledges to promote regional integration through various forms. Moves toward closer regional economic ties should be "open and transparent," he said.
"Up to now, we have not yet received any invitation. If one day we receive such an invitation we will seriously study it," Chen said.
Kirk emphasized that the trans-Pacific bloc is meant to be open, though it requires members to meet high standards for openness and free trade.
"You should not wait for an invitation," he said. "If they are willing meet the highest standard then any country is welcome to make the same decision the others have done."