China pledges further opening as leaders scramble for free trade

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged further economic opening on November 19 as leaders of Asia-Pacific countries sought new free-trade options following Donald Trump's election to US president on promises to scrap or renegotiate trade deals.

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China's President Xi Jinping applauds while attending a meeting of the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Ceo Summit in Lima, Peru, November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
All eyes were on China at this year's APEC summit in Lima, Peru just over a week after Trump's surprise victory in the United States dashed hopes of the largest-ever US-proposed trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), coming to fruition.

US President Barack Obama has championed the TPP as a way to counter China's rise, but he has now stopped trying to win congressional approval for the deal signed by 12 economies in the Americas and Asia-Pacific, excluding China. Without US approval the current agreement cannot be implemented.

Trump campaigned against the TPP and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as bad for US jobs. He said he would scrap the TPP and threatened to impose tariffs on imports from China and Mexico.

Following a meeting with Obama, Xi said Beijing's relationship with Washington was at a "hinge moment" and called for a smooth transition.

Xi has been selling an alternate vision for regional trade by promoting the Beijing-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which as it stands excludes the Americas.

"China will not shut its door to the outside world but open more," Xi said in a keynote address at APEC. "We're going to...make sure the fruits of development are shared."

Chinese attendance at the APEC meeting was its largest ever and regional delegates said China would take the lead on trade if the US turned toward protectionism.

The Obama administration has warned that the RCEP would not include strong protections for workers, the environment or intellectual property.

In Lima on his last scheduled trip abroad as president, Obama said the United States worked to include labor provisions in a US-Peru free trade agreement to lift wages and standards for Peruvian workers.

"That's the kind of attitude that we want to try to promote in ... the years going forward, and my hope is that policy will continue."

TPP leaders held a meeting at APEC, where Obama urged them to work together to advance TPP, the White House said.

The leaders had confirmed the economic and strategic importance of the agreement, Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami told reporters after the meeting.

Reuters

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