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APEC leaders pledge to protect free trade agreements

APEC leaders pledge to protect free trade agreementsLeaders of 21 Asia-Pacific nations have ended their annual summit with a call to resist protectionism and protect the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, which has been thrown into uncertainty after the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, The Voice of America said on Sunday.

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum closed on Sunday in Lima, Peru, with a joint pledge to work toward a sweeping new free trade agreement that would include all 21 members as a path to "sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth,'' despite the political climate.

Trump strongly criticized the TPP - which includes the United States but not China - during an election campaign notable for his strong criticism of U.S. free trade deals.

But at a news conference at the end of the summit, U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States should not retreat from global trade, but should seek to "do trade right'' so that workers are protected and environmental standards are upheld.

Obama said it's time for the U.S. to reaffirm its support for the TPP trade deal. He said if Trump withdraws the U.S. from the pact, it will be a weaker deal and the U.S. would lose an opportunity to shape the rules of global trade "in a way that reflects our values."

Regional leaders also stressed on Sunday they would push ahead with the TPP.

"We reaffirm our commitment to keep our markets open and to fight against all forms of protectionism," they said at a summit meeting of the 21-country Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group in Peru.

China is not part of the TPP and has been pushing an alternative vision of free trade in Asia under the so-called Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which does not currently include countries in the Americas.

Tan Jian, a senior member of China's delegation at the summit, said more countries are now seeking to join its 16-member bloc, including Peru and Chile, and that current members want to reach a deal as soon as possible to counter rising protectionism, Reuters reported.

In a final declaration, APEC leaders said the TPP and RCEP were both valid paths to a broader Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, which has long been a goal of the APEC bloc that accounts for 57 percent of the world economy.

"We encourage that all regional undertakings, including TPP and RCEP, remain open, transparent and inclusive and draw on each other,"
they said.

Some APEC leaders in Lima have suggested the TPP could continue without the United States, but others said that would require a complete renegotiation.

China's delegation warned against the "politicization" of trade agreements and said they should not just be for rich economies.

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who hosted the summit, said it was too early to write off the TPP and that Trump's support was due more to "difficult economic conditions" than to fierce protectionist sentiment.

Canada, a member of TPP but not RCEP, is keeping its options open on future trade deals, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Australia, similarly, said it was pursuing various opportunities, including RCEP.

"Well as I've indicated previously, Australia doesn't have all its eggs in one basket. It's not a case of the TPP is all that there is for Australia,"
Trade Minister Steven Ciobo told reporters.
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