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Free trade in Asia-Pacific will create U.S. jobs, Obama says

By Alan Yonan and B.J. Reyes

Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 1:56 p.m. HST, Nov 12, 2011

President Barack Obama used an appearance before business leaders attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit meeting to promote his administration’s goal of boosting trade in the region as a way to create more jobs for the U.S. economy.

Obama cited progress made this week on a proposed free-trade zone with eight other Pacific Rim countries under the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he touted the benefits of pursuing trade opportunities with non-TPP countries China and Russia.

The TPP has garnered attention during the APEC summit with Japan’s prime minister announcing that the country will seek to  join the negotiations, and an announcement by leaders of the TPP countries that they have agreed on a framework for the proposed trade deal. Obama said the goal is to have the agreement finalized sometime next year.

Obama welcomed a commitment by  Japan Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to join the TPP talks, but cautioned that it will be a “difficult process” for Japanese leaders as they try to win support back home. Obama noted that Japan’s agricultural sector, in particular, has historically been resistant to free trade agreements because they open up their products to greater competition from imported goods.

James McNerney Jr., the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Boeing, posed questions to the president on a variety of issues, including the U.S. relationship with China, in a forum at the CEO Summit at the Sheraton Waikiki hotel this morning.

Before answering questions, Obama quipped that in all his years growing up in Hawaii and returning for visits, today's forum was the first time he's ever had to wear a suit and tie in his birthplace.

During the session, Obama addressed concerns that have been expressed by some U.S. manufacturers that further liberalizing trade with China 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,” he said. “When we see trade rules broken we will enforce them.”

The structure of trade agreements give U.S. businesses more leverage to protect one of their greatest assets: intellectual property,” Obama said.

Obama also said the U.S. will keep up pressure on Chinese authorities to let their currency trade more freely. U.S. manufacturers have long complained that by artificially suppressing the value of the yuan the Chinese government has made exports cheaper global markets compared with U.S. goods.

He said the “frank dialogue” that the U.S. and China have had during the past two years has been good for both sides.

Obama began his day in Hawaii at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference meeting with the nations seeking to forge a regional trade agreement that Obama says will boost the economies of participating nations and will help achieve his goal of doubling US exports.

"With nearly 500 million consumers between us, there is so much more we can do together," Obama said, according to a White House media pool report.

That meeting was held at the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki.

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-sized 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."

Also on Obama's schedule today are separate bi-lateral talks with Prime Minister Yohishiko Noda of Japan, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

His day concludes with a formal state dinner and cultural program hosted by the president and first lady at the Hale Koa to be attended by APEC leaders and their spouses.

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