The president outlines his proposal to create a trans-Pacific zone that can help stimulate U.S. economic growth
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 13, 2011
President Barack Obama made Honolulu the venue for declaring a shift in his focus away from the prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Asia-Pacific region with all its economic promise.
At a Sheraton Waikiki ballroom packed with 1,000 of the region's top political and business leaders, Obama pointed to the Pacific as the future source of economic growth and jobs.
For businesses, he said Saturday, "this is where the action's going to be."
It's a message welcomed by many in Hawaii, who have been hoping the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference will enhance the state's long-sought status as an economic player.
"There is no region in the world that we consider more vital than the Asia-Pacific region," Obama told the chief executives gathered for the APEC CEO Summit.
Obama hopes that by tapping the explosive potential of the Asia-Pacific region he will be able to add jobs to a U.S. economy suffering through years of stubbornly high unemployment.
The 21 members of APEC — from Russia to Australia and Canada to Chile — represent about half the world's trade and gross domestic product, a share that is growing especially as economies in Europe struggle.
Obama announced the broad outlines of an agreement to create a trans- Pacific trade zone encompassing the United States and eight other nations. He said details must still be worked out but said the goal was to complete the deal by next year.
He also addressed concerns of some that further liberalizing trade would negatively affect American businesses.
"If we can create a system where everybody is playing by the same rules, then U.S. businesses and workers will excel," Obama said. "When we see trade rules broken we will enforce them."
"There's no reason why globalization should be something we fear," he added.
The eight countries joining the U.S. in the zone would be Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
A central topic during a one-on-one meeting between Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was Japan's interest in joining the trade bloc.
Obama said the Trans-Pacific Partnership can serve as a model for future trade agreements, including issues not addressed in previous deals including market regulations, creating opportunities for small and medium-size businesses, and including "high standards" for worker rights and the environment.
"I'm confident we can get this done," he concluded. "Together we can boost exports and create more goods available for our consumers, create new jobs."
In a sign of potential tension with China, Mike Froman, a U.S. deputy national security adviser who focuses on international economic matters, shrugged off complaints from China that it had not been invited to join the trade bloc.
He told reporters that China had not expressed interest in joining and said the trade group "is not something that one gets invited to. It's something that one aspires to."
Obama said his administration would continue to urge China to participate more fairly in Asia-Pacific trade.
Chinese President Hu Jintao, speaking before Obama to the same group of regional CEOs, pledged to increase the country's imports, reduce trade frictions and step up protection of intellectual property rights.
Obama met separately with Hu, telling the Chinese president that cooperation between the United States and China is vital "not only to the security and prosperity of our own people but is also vital to the world."
Hu said he was delighted to have the opportunity to come to Hawaii and appreciated the work the United States did in preparing for the APEC meeting.
"The Asia-Pacific region is the most dynamic region in today's world, with the biggest development potential," Hu said. "This region should become a region of active cooperation between China and the United States."
Obama's meeting with Hu followed a lengthy discussion between Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Russia will host next year's APEC meeting in Vladivostok on Russia's east coast. Medvedev promised it will be a significant summit, though he said he cannot promise the weather will be the same as in Hawaii.
Star-Advertiser writers Alan Yonan Jr. and B.J. Reyes, and the Associated Press, contributed to this report.