China will seek to push its own vision of an Asia-Pacific trade pact at a regional summit next week, senior officials said yesterday, just weeks after the release of a rival US-led deal that pointedly excludes the Asian giant.
Beijing sought to promote the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, or FTAAP, at last year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which it hosted.
At the meeting’s close, participants endorsed efforts to explore the idea, which was seen as a potential rival to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a Washington-led trade coalition that includes the region’s largest economies, except for China.
Little has been heard of China’s free-trade area since, while the long-secret text of the American-led pact was released on Thursday, receiving cheers from global business interests and jeers from labour, environmental and health groups, which vowed to fight its ratification.
China said it would report the findings of a study on the free-trade area at next week’s Apec summit in the Philippines, which President Xi Jinping will attend.
“We need to actively work for the establishment of FTAAP,” Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen said, adding that it would be “a facilitator for regional integration in Apec”.
It would be the world’s largest free-trade area, encompassing the TPP and other regional frameworks. Apec’s 21 members account for more than 50 per cent of global GDP and nearly half of world trade.
Although it gathers some of the world’s most important leaders, the group’s annual meeting is a better known for its group photos of powerful people in matching shirts than substantive deals.
But Wang said China remained hopeful that the group would complete a road map for establishing the FTAAP framework.
“Our objective is to complete the joint strategic study next year and to present operable suggestions and recommendations to the leaders at next year’s summit,” he said.
China has latched onto the free-trade area, first proposed by Apec in 2006, as a hedge against the US-led initiative, a key element of Washington’s “Asia pivot”. The Tran-Pacific Partnership would be the world’s biggest free-trade area, an attempt to break down barriers to commerce and investment between 12 countries comprising about 40 per cent of the global economy.
Although the US has said it is open to Chinese participation in the TPP, it has pointedly excluded the world’s second-largest economy from negotiations.
We need to actively work for the establishment of FTAAP
Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen
Philippine President Benigno Aquino pledged a warm welcome for Xi in Manila, despite an ongoing row with its giant Asian neighbour over disputes in the South China Sea, an aide said.
The Filipino leader made the pledge as he hosted rare talks with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is in Manila on a working visit ahead of the annual summit.
“The president mentioned that he welcomed the decision of President X Jinping to attend the Apec summit,” Aquino spokesman Herminio Coloma said after Wang’s courtesy call.
“He assured the foreign minister that it is in the culture of the Filipinos as hosts to make our guests feel the warmth of Filipino hospitality.”
Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong said China was not aware of any plan to discuss the territorial dispute in the summit.
“Apec is mainly a platform to discuss economic and trade cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said. “There is consensus on this point.”
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