China softens push for vast trade area amid US resistance: report

Published Sat, Nov 8, 2014 · 04:08 AM

[BEIJING] China has agreed to soften its push for a vast new Asia-Pacific free trade agreement in the face of resistance from the United States, which is promoting its own regional trade pact, a report said Saturday.

Beijing, which is hosting an annual gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders, has acquiesced to toned-down treatment in a final summit communique on its favoured Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), according to the South China Morning Post.

China's promotion of the FTAAP - and the narrative of Sino-US rivalry on the issue - had loomed as a major agenda item for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meeting.

The gathering culminates with a two-day summit of leaders including China's Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama starting Monday.

APEC officials have said the meeting would conclude with a call for a "strategic study" on FTAAP.

But FTAAP will only be mentioned in an annex to the final communique, the SCMP said citing a US official close to the talks, and would be downgraded from being called a "feasibility" study, with a target date of 2025 also dropped.

It quoted an unnamed Chinese official calling it a compromise by Beijing.

The US official was quoted as saying: "We told them that's not a good thing to do because when you use the word feasibility study, it's used in trade talks as implying the launch of a negotiation towards a free-trade agreement." According to the paper, a Chinese official said: "The US wants to impede FTAAP, and they want to promote TPP during APEC. This is really annoying for us." The US has been trying to secure agreement on a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a grouping of 12 nations including Japan, Australia, Malaysia and Mexico.

All 12 also belong to the 21-member APEC.

The effort constitutes the economic component of Washington's much-touted "rebalance" of strategic attention to the Asia-Pacific.

But the TPP notably excludes China, which is now the world's second-largest economy following the United States, and is increasingly pushing for a greater say in the world trade and economic architecture.

Some Chinese analysts have viewed the US-backed TPP as a way to thwart the FTAAP and thus counter Beijing's growing influence in the region - concerns Washington has dismissed.

The Chinese official said Washington had insisted on holding TPP talks on the sidelines of APEC but had eventually agreed to keep such efforts low-profile.



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