Obama outlines pan-Pacific trade plan at Apec summit

Barack Obama speaks at Apec summit in Hawaii. Photo: 12 November 2011 Barack Obama said the TPP deal could be finalised next year

US President Barack Obama has announced the broad outlines of a plan to create a trans-Pacific free trade zone at an annual regional summit in Hawaii.

"I'm confident we can get this done," Mr Obama said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) talks.

Nine Apec nations are involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but China has so far not expressed interest in joining the talks.

In all, 21 Apec countries account for about 44% of global trade.

They also make up some 40% of the world's population.

Speaking in Honolulu on Saturday, Mr Obama said: "Together we can boost exports and create more goods available for our consumers, create new jobs. Compete, win in the markets of the future."

Iran response

Describing the region as an engine for growth, he expressed hopes that the TPP deal could be finalised as early as next year.

The US leader also said the TPP could serve as a model for other trade pacts. He did not provide further details about the plan.

President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao at the APEC Summit in Honolulu on 12 November 2011. President Obama warned China about US irritation over Chinese economic policy

Mr Obama had separate meetings with the Chinese and Russian Presidents, on the sidelines of the Apec summit.

In his meeting with the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, Mr Obama pressed him to allow the Chinese currency, the yuan, to rise, and on the need for a rebalancing of the global economy, White House officials said.

Mr Obama also warned the Chinese president that Americans were becoming impatient over US-China economic ties.

In his meeting with the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, Mr Obama discussed Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, among other subjects.

Mr Obama said they "reaffirmed our intention to work and shape a common response so we can move Iran to follow its international obligations when it comes to its nuclear programme".

Japan 'boldness'

The TPP currently includes Chile, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore - all relatively small economies - with the US, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Peru negotiating to join.

And Japan, the world's third largest economy, has now said it also wants to join the discussions.

President Obama said he had been "extremely impressed with the boldness" of the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, whose decision to join free trade talks is strongly opposed by Japan's farmers.

Mr Obama spoke after holding his first substantive talks with the new Japanese Prime Minister at the Apec summit.

Mr Noda told the US president that he was beginning steps to "review Japan's beef import restrictions and expand market access for US beef", the White House said in a statement.

While not taking part in the TPP discussions, Chinese President Hu Jintao said in Honolulu that he backed a long-term goal of negotiating a free trade area in the region, which could in future include all Apec members.

Mr Hu said Beijing would focus on innovation and encourage investment overseas.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington says the US sees Asia as essential to America's future, both economically and strategically.

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