BEIJING (Reuters, AFP) - A new Asia-Pacific trade liberalisation framework will help boost integration throughout the region, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday.
The 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) agreed to take steps to create a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), according to a joint communique issued after a two-day summit attended by state leaders in Beijing.
Xi, addressing reporters at the close of the Apec summit, said Apec member economies had "approved the roadmap for Apec to promote and realise the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific".
He called it a "historic" step reflecting the "confidence and commitment of Apec members to promote the integration of the regional economy", and symbolising "the official launch of the process towards the FTAAP".
Besides accounting for more than 50 percent of global gross domestic product, Apec also makes up nearly half of world trade and 40 percent of the Earth's population.
The FTAAP would build on other initiatives including the smaller US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but Beijing's firm advocacy of the plan over TPP has added to Sino-US trade rivalry.
Washington has been pushing the TPP, which aims for a loosening of trade restrictions and embraces 11 other Pacific Rim countries including Japan, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and Singapore while notably excluding China.
Some Chinese analysts and state media have framed the TPP as an attempt to check Beijing's growing economic clout - allegations Washington dismisses. At the meeting Obama himself praised China for focusing attention on Apec's role in eventually achieving the FTAAP, first proposed in 2006, but also reiterated the US priority was the smaller TPP.
"The many regional initiatives will contribute to the eventual realisation," he said. "We see our engagement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a contribution towards that effort."
Xi and Obama were set to hold bilateral talks later Tuesday, and again on Wednesday.