Asia-Pacific leaders at summit in Hawaii seeking unity on trade

At the Asia-Pacific summit are President Obama, Japan's Yoshihiko Noda, and Russia's Dmitry Medvedev. A2.
At the Asia-Pacific summit are President Obama, Japan's Yoshihiko Noda, and Russia's Dmitry Medvedev. A2. (TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / Associated Press, Pool)
Posted: November 14, 2011

KAPOLEI, Hawaii - Asia-Pacific leaders held their annual summit Sunday, having claimed progress on a U.S.-backed free-trade bloc that received praise from U.S. businesses and labor, but drew a less-enthusiastic response from China and Russia.

The balmy weather for the gathering at a resort on the west side of the island of Oahu contrasted with pessimism over the economic outlook expressed by many attending the summit. With Europe again on the brink of recession, Asia's vital role as a driver of global growth is gaining even greater urgency.

"Now it's time to get down to work, and we have much to do," President Obama said in opening the meeting in his home state of Hawaii.

"Our 21 economies - our nearly three 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," he said. "That's why we're here."

Obama said the United States would not be able to put people back to work and expand opportunity unless the Asia-Pacific region also was successful.

He called the region "absolutely critical" to America's growth, and a top priority for his administration. He said he hoped for progress toward the goal of a seamless regional economy. Obama was meeting throughout the day with leaders of nations that account for roughly half of the world's trade.

A day earlier, Obama said he was optimistic that work on the U.S.-backed trade pact, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), could result in a legal framework by next year.

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

"An important step to unlocking global economic growth will be expanding trade in the Asia-Pacific, and the TPP holds this key," said Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business lobbying group. 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" United States, the labor union said in a statement.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation includes economies huge and tiny, rich and poor. As always, the divergence between rich and developing economies - and between the United States and China - was apparent.

Asked about U.S. trade friction with China in an appearance at the business summit, Obama exhorted Beijing to "play by the rules," citing as a good example controls that keep China's currency, known as the yuan or renminbi, undervalued. 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.

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