Kirk Defends U.S. Agenda for APEC Meeting That China Calls Too Ambitious

Rejecting criticism by China that the Obama administration’s goals for this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit are too ambitious, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the U.S. will “push the envelope” to promote trade in renewable energy technology.

Kirk is seeking an agreement with 20 other APEC nations to lower tariffs on environmental goods and services, a move supported by companies such as General Electric Co. (GE) and Applied Materials Inc. (AMAT) The U.S. has pushed for free trade in those products as part of the stalled Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks.

“I understand China may be uncomfortable with it,” Kirk said yesterday in an interview in Washington. “We’re always going to try to push the envelope and encourage our partners to be more assertive, more forward-thinking. We don’t serve the interests of American entrepreneurs and innovators if we go in and always see the floor as the highest level of ambition.”

The administration also has called for nations at the APEC meetings in Honolulu this weekend to find ways to expand trade overall and to coordinate regulations.

The U.S. goal is “too ambitious and is beyond the reach of developing economies,” China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Hailong said at a press briefing in Beijing yesterday.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is seeking an agreement with 20 other APEC nations to lower tariffs on environmental goods and services. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg Close

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U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is seeking an agreement with 20 other APEC nations to lower tariffs on environmental goods and services. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

The Obama administration is also working at the meetings on a trade deal with eight Pacific nations and looking beyond them to the prospects of adding Japan and China. An accord among the Pacific rim nations would be the first trade deal that Obama signed rather than inherited, and the biggest for the U.S. since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico that took effect in 1994.

Labor, Environment

Rules regarding treatment of workers and protections for the environment are among the most difficult in those talks, Kirk said yesterday. Obama pledged in his 2008 campaign for president to pursue those issues in future trade negotiations.

The current Trans-Pacific Partnership talks are with Australia, Chile, Peru and Singapore, all of which already have separate free-trade agreements with the U.S., as well as with Malaysia, New Zealand, Vietnam and Brunei. China’s commerce ministry said yesterday that such regional agreements shouldn’t replace wider trade regimes.

“TPP has set very high benchmarks, whether or not all these members will reach that high benchmark we’ll have to wait and see,” Assistant Commerce Minister Yu Jianhua said at the briefing in Beijing.

‘Sensitive’ Areas

Malaysia wants to have the flexibility during TPP negotiations to protect “sensitive” areas of the economy, International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed told reporters today in Putrajaya, near Kuala Lumpur. The country gives preferential treatment for some state contracts to ethnic Malays and indigenous people.

Negotiating now with Vietnam, a closed-market economy, gives the U.S. a chance to work through some of the issues it would face later with China, Michael Green, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in an interview.

“We gave Vietnam all the space and understand they are in a different place,” Kirk said. “They have not done many trade agreements, much less something this ambitious. We understand there will be areas where we don’t maybe reach as high as we thought we would, but we have not been bashful about putting those issues, and why they are important to our economy, on the table.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Martin in Washington at emartin21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net

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