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U.S. working on Pacific trade deal before APEC meeting

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Negotiators working to craft a Pacific trade deal are focused on curbing unfair advantages for state-owned businesses and coordinating regulations, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said.

Kirk said negotiators from nine Pacific nations are on schedule to sketch the outlines of an agreement before an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Honolulu in two weeks.

U.S. trade with the nations totaled $170 billion last year, according to the Commerce Department. A deal would be the largest for the U.S. since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.

The U.S. is offering "new text to address what we believe are unfair advantages given to businesses that are essentially creations or extensions of state-owned enterprises," Kirk said today in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. "Some of the barriers now aren’t the tariffs. There’s new regulatory incoherence."

President Barack Obama is forging his first trade accord in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations after Congress two weeks ago passed agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama signed under President George W. Bush. Kirk said passage of the accords gives the U.S. momentum as it negotiates with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The nations also are working to build consensus on customs, technical barriers to trade, telecommunications, government procurement, rules for small- and medium-sized enterprises, competitiveness and development, according to a statement from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office last month. The nations are seeking to synchronize their trade rules.

"Everything should be on the table," Kirk said. "Let’s attack these honestly and have an agreement that reflects today’s reality. Let’s build a 21st century agreement."

The partnership eventually may include China, South Korea, Russia and Canada, Kirk said.

"This has the potential to become the trade deal of the Pacific, or at least those 21 member economies" in the Asia-Pacific group, Kirk said. "The American economy needs the Trans-Pacific Partnership to help us embrace the world’s most dynamic region."

The APEC leaders meeting in Honolulu next month will also work to promote green technology growth, Kirk said.

Kirk said that after the APEC summit, he and Commerce Secretary John Bryson, sworn in on Oct. 21, will travel to China for meetings of the 22nd Joint Commission of Commerce and Trade, where he will press China on issues including its use of state-owned enterprises.

"We will use and do use every opportunity that we have to engage with China and ask China to do one simple thing," Kirk said. "Live up to the commitments you made when we granted you permanent normal trade relation status and invited you to the World Trade Organization."


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