Obama, Hu pitch different trade agendas

Sat Nov 12, 2011 6:05pm EST
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By Michael Martina and Laura MacInnis

HONOLULU (Reuters) - Barack Obama and Hu Jintao presented dueling trade agendas as an antidote to weak global growth as the U.S. and Chinese presidents faced off on Saturday at a Pacific summit where Europe's debt crisis loomed large.

The heads of the world's two biggest economies laid bare their countries' growing rivalry and some of their entrenched differences in back-to-back speeches to executives at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Honolulu.

Obama took China to task for currency and trade practices -- issuing a veiled threat of more punitive action unless it "plays by the rules" -- as he sought to reassert U.S. influence in a region he said was more vital than any other to America's interests.

Hu pushed back, insisting on more clout for China as an emerging global power. He also made clear Beijing prefers to work through existing global trade architecture rather than allowing itself to be subject to U.S.-led efforts to pry open Asia-Pacific markets.

Obama and Hu will meet face to face later on Saturday.

Hosting the APEC summit in his native Hawaii, Obama said earlier the "broad outlines" of a deal had been reached on the Transpacific Partnership, a regional free trade pact being negotiated by the United States and eight other countries.

It was hailed by U.S. officials as the summit's signature achievement and a possible template for an eventual APEC-wide free trade zone. APEC's 21 members make up the world's most economically dynamic region and account for more than half of global output.

The deal being sought with China's neighbors also reflected a U.S. drive to counter Beijing's competitive threat.   Continued...