APEC economies press for free trade despite White House protectionism

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Asia-Pacific leaders leave Vietnam in support of free trade. That’s despite what some characterize as U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionist position.

The 11 nations that remain in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact pledge to uphold the agreement. Washington already withdrew from the deal it once championed. CGTN’s Rian Maelzer reports.

Given that APEC’s primary purpose is to promote free trade, this has to be seen as something of a success. In the end, the 11 countries still negotiating the biggest free trade deal the region has ever seen weren’t able to ratify the Trans Pacific Partnership at the APEC leaders’ meeting.

But still, they made huge strides toward sealing a pact that many thought was dead and buried after Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the TPP in January.

“The ministers issued a joint statement, affirming that countries have agreed on the core elements of this agreement in the direction of keeping the content of the original TPP agreement, while allowing member countries to temporarily suspend a number of obligations,” Vietnam’s Industry and Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh said.

So work still to be done, but better than a rushed deal.

“There are lots of areas where if you rush to agree, high standards will be sacrificed. But if you insist on high standards, it can take a long time or some countries might drop out. So all 11 countries are on board and this will send out a very strong message to the US and other countries in the region,” Japan’s Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said.

The TPP was not the only big deal in the works. Tweleve APEC members including China, Japan, South Korea and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are also working to conclude another ambitious free trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Despite the free-trade skeptic in their ranks, APEC said it still aims to eventually create a free trade deal encompassing the whole Asia Pacific region.

Speaking Friday, Trump seemed to accuse several fellow APEC members of unfair trade practices and made it clear he opposed multi-nation deals.

But APEC’s other leaders have made it equally clear they won’t let the U.S. obstruct or derail their goal of greater regional integration.