National / Politics

China to push creation of APEC-wide free trade zone by 2025

Kyodo

China will be calling for a commitment by the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum toward the creation of a Pacific-rim free trade area by 2025, when they meet in November, according to a draft of a post-summit leaders’ declaration.

Referring to a “Beijing Road Map” for APEC’s contribution to the realization of a free trade area covering the Asia-Pacific region, the draft declaration says, “We affirm our commitment to the eventual realization of an FTAAP by 2025.”

The time frame for establishing of an APEC-wide FTA, however, is shown in brackets, a sign that it could eventually be dropped from the declaration amid objections from the United States, Japan and other countries that have placed priority on the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative.

The draft says the APEC leaders will “endorse the Beijing Road Map for APEC’s Contribution to the Realization of an FTAAP, which represents an important concrete step toward greater regional economic integration.”

The leaders “agree to launch a feasibility study” on the 21-member free trade initiative and they “instruct officials to undertake the study and report the results to us by the end of 2016,” it says.

But government sources said it is uncertain that the deadline or the launch of the feasibility study will appear in the final version of the document, citing opposition by Tokyo, Washington and others.

“We still need to continue our discussion,” one of the sources said.

By putting the FTAAP in the spotlight, China, the chair of this year’s APEC forum, will try to steal the thunder of the TPP. The United States, Japan and 10 other countries are striving to conclude the TPP negotiations and create a trade bloc that does not include China.

U.S. President Barack Obama places the TPP, which would encompass some 40 percent of global output, as part of the centerpiece of his “rebalance” toward Asia, at a time China is increasing its global presence.

At a meeting of APEC trade ministers in May, China also pushed for the 2025 deadline for FTAAP and backed the launch of a feasibility study, but it was met with opposition by the other countries, and they only agreed to craft a road map for an FTAAP.

The vision of the APEC-wide, ambitious free trade zone emerged in 2006. APEC leaders agreed in 2010 to eventually achieve it on the basis of other preceding frameworks such as the TPP, but little has been decided so far.

According to the draft, the APEC leaders at the Beijing summit “recognize the pivotal role of women in the development and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific” and will “eliminate all barriers that hinder women’s economic participation” to further enhance their empowerment.

The draft also emphasizes the importance of energy security in the region, calling on members to eliminate trade protective measures that may impede development in the energy sector.

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