Pacific Rim leaders meet, seeking unity on trade

By Elaine Kurtenbach

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 13 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit leaders plenary session in Kapolei, Hawaii on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011 as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, left, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right listen.

Chris Carlson, Associated Press

KAPOLEI, Hawaii — Asia-Pacific leaders gathered for their annual summit Sunday, aiming to fine-tune strategies to spur growth and create jobs after claiming progress on a U.S.-backed free trade bloc — an initiative welcomed by American businesses and labor.

The balmy weather for the gathering at a resort on the west side of the Hawaiian island of Oahu contrasts with deepening pessimism over the economic outlook. With Europe again on the brink of recession, Asia's vital role as a driver of global growth has gained even greater urgency.

"Now it's time to get down to work, and we have much to do," President Barack Obama said in opening the meeting. "Our 21 economies — our nearly 3 billion citizens — are looking to us to bring our economies closer, to increase exports, to expand trade and opportunity that creates jobs and economic growth. That's why we're here."

In a rare tangible achievement from the annual Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Obama, said Saturday he was optimistic that work on the American-backed trade pact, dubbed the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the U.S. and eight other countries, could result in a legal framework by next year.

For the U.S., the initiative is seen as a way to break through bottlenecks and open new business opportunities.

"The Asia Pacific region is absolutely critical to America's economic growth. We consider it a top priority. And we consider it a top priority because we're not going to be able to put our folks back to work and grow our economy and expand opportunity unless the Asia Pacific region is also successful," he told his fellow APEC leaders at Sunday's meeting.

Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an influential busines lobbying group, praised the TPP initiative.

"An important step to unlocking global economic growth will be expanding trade in the Asia-Pacific, and the TPP holds this key," Donohue said. He urged the group to move quickly in drawing up a timeline that is "comprehensive, enforceable, and makes room for new entrants."

The United Steelworkers Union also welcomed the news.

"The USW appreciates the administration's aggressive outreach on ways that the TPP could support manufacturing and create jobs in the U.S.," the labor union said in a statement.

APEC joins 21 economies, both huge and tiny, rich and poor. As always, the divergence between rich and developing economies — and between the U.S. and China — was apparent.

In Hawaii, Obama was pushing hard on trade issues with China.

Before a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Saturday, Obama exhorted Beijing to "play by the rules," citing controls that keep China's currency, which is know as the yuan or renminbi, undervalued as a good example. He also cited lax enforcement of protection of intellectual property rights, favoritism toward state-run enterprises and other issues that have long dogged trade relations between the world's two leading economies.

The APEC leaders began their summit still not yet agreed on terms for freer trade in environmental goods and services, another of Obama's priorities for the annual gathering.

Speaking Saturday ahead of a meeting with Obama, Hu reiterated the Chinese government's insistence that APEC respect the choices made by its members "to independently pursue green growth on the basis of their resource endowment, stage of development and capacity."

China, which some economists say is on course to overtake the U.S. as the world's biggest economy this decade, also has appeared unenthusiastic about the Pacific trade pact, describing the plan as "overly ambitious."

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