China Wants Quick Close on Regional Trade Agreement for Asia

  • Mofcom spokesman says China seeks freer, more convenient trade
  • RCEP negotiations are set to resume next week in Indonesia

China wants to seal the deal on a trade agreement with Southeast Asian countries as soon as possible with a U.S.-led pact now in doubt, a Ministry of Commerce official said Thursday.

The country will work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to negotiate the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, spokesman Shen Danyang said in a briefing in Beijing, echoing President Xi Jinping’s Saturday speech to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

China will actively participate in multilateral or bilateral trade and work closely with World Trade Organization members to foster "freer and more convenient" global trade regardless of how the Asean-backed RCEP or American-led Trans-Pacific Partnership fare, Shen said.

China’s bid to assert its economic leadership is gaining traction in its push for the Asia-wide trade pact in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, which dashed hopes for the U.S.-led TPP deal that would have taken in about 40 percent of the global economy. The TPP excludes China and RCEP excludes the U.S.

Securing a deal would further enmesh the world’s second-largest economy in the region and help cement China’s role as a geopolitical leader. It would boost China’s clout in a region where it has territorial disputes with neighbors including Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines and is looking to displace decades of U.S. strategic dominance.

Next Round

The U.S. withdrawal from the 12-nation TPP -- reaffirmed by Trump in a videotaped speech Monday -- has focused attention on a competing set of trade talks. The next round of RCEP negotiations will be Dec. 2-10 in Bumi Serpong Damai city, near Jakarta.

Xi told APEC members gathered Saturday in Lima, Peru that China pledges to boost global trade and cooperation by opening up further and giving greater access to foreign investors. Beijing wants a level playing field for foreign and local companies so that they can share in the country’s growth, Xi said.

Leaders of the 21 APEC nations at the forum pledged to expand economic integration and continue work on establishing the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. In a statement following the gathering, the group said it will resist all forms of protectionism and roll back any trade-distorting measures.

China made its case at the gathering for the 16-nation RCEP. Other nations wanted to preserve the TPP, with Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski saying leaders discussed using it as one possible pathway to creating the FTAAP, which is APEC’s ultimate goal.

Shen said China appreciates the commitments leaders of Pacific Rim nations reached to push for the pact. "This is the first actual move to materialize the concept of the FTAAP," he said.

— With assistance by Xiaoqing Pi, and Miao Han

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