China pledges further opening as leaders scramble for free trade

Sat Nov 19, 2016 11:41pm EST
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By Rosalba O'Brien and Kiyoshi Takenaka

LIMA (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to open the economy further on Saturday as leaders of Asia-Pacific countries sought new free-trade options following Donald Trump's election to U.S. president on promises to scrap or renegotiate trade deals.

All eyes were on China at this year's APEC summit in Lima, Peru just over a week after Trump's surprise victory in the United States dashed hopes of the largest-ever U.S.-proposed trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), coming to fruition.

U.S. President Barack Obama has championed the TPP as a way to counter China's rise, but he has now stopped trying to win congressional approval for the deal signed by 12 economies in the Americas and Asia-Pacific, excluding China. Without U.S. approval the current agreement cannot be implemented.

Trump campaigned against the TPP and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as bad for U.S. jobs. He said he would scrap the TPP and threatened to impose tariffs on imports from China and Mexico.

Following a meeting with Obama, Xi said Beijing's relationship with Washington was at a "hinge moment" and called for a smooth transition.

Xi has been selling an alternate vision for regional trade by promoting the Beijing-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which as it stands excludes the Americas.

"China will not shut its door to the outside world but open more," Xi said in a keynote address at APEC. "We're going to...make sure the fruits of development are shared."

Chinese attendance at the APEC meeting was its largest ever and regional delegates said China would take the lead on trade if the U.S. turned toward protectionism.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) during the APEC Summit in Lima, Peru November 19, 2016.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque