• Asia-Pacific leaders back trade deal

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    BEIJING: US President Barack Obama and other Asia-Pacific leaders called on Monday for a deal to be reached “as soon as possible” on a proposed free-trade agreement, which has added to China-US discord, at a regional summit in Beijing.

    Obama and leaders from 11 other Pacific Rim countries including Japan, Canada, Australia and Mexico instructed negotiators to build on “significant progress” and push toward a conclusion of difficult talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade idea.

    “With the end coming into focus, we have instructed our ministers and negotiators to make concluding this agreement a top priority to reap the real and substantial benefits of the TPP agreement as soon as possible,” a statement said.

    The TPP countries met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit hosted this year by Beijing.

    Washington has for years pushed the TTP, which proposes a loosening of trade restrictions, but notably excludes the world’s second-largest economy China.

    But the talks have become bogged down amid resistance from some prospective members wary of opening up domestic markets, notably Japan.

    Obama said he was “seeing momentum building,” in remarks to reporters.

    But a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “This is not an agreement which is about to get signed. This will take a period of time to finish off some of the difficult issues.”

    China wants the 21-member APEC meeting to endorse a stronger commitment to the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) idea, a longer-term concept for the entire region that would build on the TPP and other free-trade initiatives.

    US Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters in Beijing on Sunday that FTAAP was a “long-term aspiration.”

    TPP, meanwhile, was “the major focus” of US economic policy toward the Asia-Pacific, he stressed.

    Some Chinese analysts and state media have framed the TPP as an attempt to check Beijing’s growing economic clout, allegations Washington dismisses.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also is attending APEC, said in an interview last week that TPP was designed to benefit the United States.

    He added that Russia and China’s absence in the scheme “will not promote the establishment of effective trade and economic cooperation.”

    Facing Western sanctions over Russia’s policies toward Ukraine, Putin has aggressively sought closer trade ties with China.

    AFP

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