China presses case at APEC summit for free trade deal

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BEIJING (Nov 4): China on Tuesday pressed its case for measures to help kick-start an Asia-Pacific regional free trade area at an upcoming summit in Beijing, a framework that some see as an effort to draw attention away from a separate U.S.-backed trade deal.

China is promoting the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) plan ahead of this month's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, an idea supported in theory by the United States and other economies.

But critics have argued that Beijing is using the FTAAP to take oxygen away from talks on its Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) plan, a comprehensive pact that currently excludes China and would tackle the kind of market restrictions still seen in China's economy.

China wants to see progress at the upcoming meeting in pushing forward the FTAAP, which is supported by all 21 APEC members, Assistant Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen told reporters at a briefing.

"We hope we can adopt some concrete measures to make progress on the path to realising the (FTAAP) vision presented by leaders in 2006," Wang said.

"In establishing the FTAAP, so far we have unanimous support from all members. Of course, we are still in discussion on some details," he said.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Nov. 2 that the United States had blocked China's efforts to use the APEC summit to push for the launch of a feasibility study on the FTAAP, a move typically seen as an opening move in negotiations.

"There are no such blockages or conflicts such as you mentioned," Wang said, in answer to a reporter's question.

Some experts view efforts to set up the 12-nation TPP as an economic framework as support for Washington's "pivot" to Asia, but China has approached the idea with hesitancy, fearing it could be isolated from markets around the region.

Robert Wang, U.S. Senior Official for APEC, told reporters in August that the United States did not see the proposed FTAAP as a rival, but little was known about what the free trade area would entail.

"The bottom line is that we are discussing this concept. There are some different views about it. In general we endorse it," Wang said, adding that it was too early to fix a target date for possible implementation.

China's Wang Shouwen said China was maintaining a "positive stance" on the prospect of signing on to the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) at the WTO, which requires signatories to eliminate duties on some IT products.

The United States and Europe have blamed China, the world's biggest exporter of IT products, for derailing talks on an update to a WTO pact on technology trade by asking for too many exemptions.

Washington has warned that China must move ahead with the ITA or risk upsetting other trade talks, namely a U.S.-China bilateral investment treaty currently in the works.

"The criticism from any side to the other one is not good for the negotiation," said China's Wang.