China to work with others to finalise 16-nation trade pact early: Xi

China's President Xi Jinping (left) and the Philippines' President Benigno Aquino listening to the Apec Business Advisory Council dialogue at the Apec Summit in Manila yesterday.
China's President Xi Jinping (left) and the Philippines' President Benigno Aquino listening to the Apec Business Advisory Council dialogue at the Apec Summit in Manila yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

China is ready to work with other countries to bring an early conclusion to the negotiations for the 16-nation trade pact called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), its President Xi Jinping said yesterday.

Mr Xi made the pledge to business leaders on his country's free trade vision for the Asia-Pacific region at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) CEO Summit.

He also pledged China's support for efforts to build high-standard free trade agreements.

"China's door to the outside world will forever stay open," he said. "China is a member of the Asia-Pacific family. We began our development here and we owe our development to the Asia-Pacific. We will continue to anchor ourselves here and deliver benefits to the region."

He made the commitment a couple of hours before leaders of the 12 countries in another trade pact - the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - met behind closed doors ahead of the Apec Leaders' Meeting.

The TPP, which includes the United States and Japan but not China, is seen by some as a rival to the RCEP, which includes China as well as Japan. Singapore is in both.

The 16 nations in the RCEP had set end-2015 as the deadline to conclude talks. Now, they hope to finalise it by end-2016, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters after meeting Mr Xi on the sidelines of the Apec Leaders' Summit.

In his keynote address to the business leaders, Mr Xi said the RCEP would foster greater openness, benefiting economies in the region.

To speed things along, China will step up reforms to its system of managing foreign investors, substantially cut restrictions on market access and improve intellectual property protection, he said.

He also said China is on the road to building a "moderately prosperous society" by 2020, with growth rates double those posted in 2010.

"We will work hard to shift the growth model from expanding scale to improving structure, from factory-driven to innovation-driven, and from depending mainly on investments and exports to relying on coordinated increase in consumption, investment and export."

He said China is set on removing institutional obstacles and letting enterprises be the key players in technological innovation.

China will pay even greater attention to equity and justice, he added. "While making a bigger pie, we will divide the pie more fairly."

The RCEP and TPP have both been described as pathways to a bigger multilateral trade zone, the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, (FTAAP), which will include both China and the US.

Mr Xi called on Apec member economies to pursue FTAAP.

He said the Asia-Pacific had found a "unique path of dynamic regional economic cooperation" that involves economies at different levels of development and should continue to do so.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2015, with the headline 'China to work with others to finalise 16-nation trade pact early: Xi'. Print Edition | Subscribe