Leaders back China-led free trade proposal

2014-11-12 01:40:36 GMT2014-11-12 09:40:36(Beijing Time)  Global Times

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced on Tuesday the official launch of the process that will move toward the establishment of a free trade area in the Asia-Pacific region, signaling that China's efforts to reinvigorate the long-delayed trade pact have been endorsed by the US.

The move was "a historic step we took in the direction of realizing the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP)," Xi told a press conference Tuesday following the conclusion of the 22nd Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting held in Beijing.

The APEC endorsement of a roadmap for promoting the FTAAP, first proposed in 2006, was "a decision to be written into the history books," Xi was quoted by the Xinhua News Agency as saying.

The decision will bring integration to a new and higher level, benefit APEC member economies and inject vigor into regional growth, he said.

APEC members will accelerate efforts to affirm commitment to the FTAAP as quickly as possible, according to the APEC Economic Leaders' Declaration, released after the meeting.

"We agree to launch a collective strategic study on issues related to the realization of the FTAAP, and instruct officials to undertake the study, consult stakeholders and report the result by the end of 2016," the declaration said.

Experts said the moves signaled China has won support from all APEC members, including the US, following media reports that the US had sought to block China's efforts to reinvigorate the FTAAP during the meeting.

"The US had concerns that the mega free trade area would affect the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which excludes China, ahead of the meetings in Beijing, but the statements indicate China's effort to push forward the FTAAP has worked," Lu Jianren, a senior research fellow with the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the China-ASEAN Research Institute of Guangxi University, told the Global Times Tuesday.

Lu said that a "strategic study" is not so far from a "feasibility study," indicating a great success for the Chinese side.

US President Barack Obama praised China for focusing attention on the role APEC members will play in eventually establishing the FTAAP, but also reiterated the US priority remains the TPP, AFP reported Tuesday.

"The many regional initiatives will contribute to the eventual realization," he was quoted by AFP as saying. "We see our engagement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a contribution toward that effort."

The FTAAP will facilitate regional economic integration, which will provide impetus to sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region, Wang Jun, an expert at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, told the Global Times Tuesday.

APEC will be expected to develop an FTAAP framework that defines the goals, principles, standards and content of the free trade agreement, Liu Chenyang, chair of the APEC Study Centers Consortium 2014, wrote in a policy recommendation letter to APEC ministers, released on Sunday.

Wang Jun expects that negotiations on the establishment of the FTAAP will be a long-term process, and the biggest challenge is how to strike a balance among members' economic interests, as they are at different stages of development.

The FTAAP would include the world's two largest economies, the US and China, so their bilateral relationship will be vital to the regional trade pact's success, Wang said.

"Once the deal is finally reached, it will have great significance to the global economic recovery and the expansion of global trade volumes," he said, noting that APEC economies comprise 40 percent of world population and together contribute 48 percent of world trade and 57 percent of global GDP.

Editor: Zhao Wei
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