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APEC leaders snub Obama, back Xi’s free trade deal

Chinese President Xi Jinping held informal talks with his US counterpart Barack Obama here on Tuesday in a bid to iron out differences between the world’s top two economies even as China won support for its ‘historic’ Asia-Pacific trade plan despite American opposition. Making a difficult trip to China, soon after the poll reversal at home where the Republicans won a majority in Congress, Obama took a leisurely walk with Xi at the well- fortified Zhongnanhai, the home of China’s top leaders, looking to strike a less confrontational relationship.

Obama who is here on a three-day visit to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit is due to hold formal talks with Xi on Wednesday. Hours before the Xi-Obama meeting, top world leaders at the APEC summit on Tuesday agreed to work towards possible adoption of a ‘historic’ free-trade deal proposed by China, in a victory for the Communist giant as it strives for a bigger role in formulating global trade policy.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation members’ endorsement of a roadmap for promoting the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) process was ‘a decision to be written into history books’, Xi said here while wrapping up the two-day jamboree of the 21-member APEC summit held with an opulent display of Chinese hospitality.

The move was ‘a historic step we took in the direction towards realising the FTAAP’, marking the official launch of the FTAAP process and demonstrating the confidence and determination of the APEC in advancing regional economic integration, Xi said at a press conference after the conclusion of the 22nd APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting.

The FTAAP would build on other initiatives, including the smaller US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but China’s firm push for its plan over US President Barack Obama’s TPP proposal has added to Sino-US trade rivalry. The summit was virtually deadlocked over US-China differences on different free trade area arrangements.

While Xi pushed hard for FTAAP, Obama stuck to Trans Pacific Partnership, which the USA is firming with 12 countries excluding China. America wants a TPP with very high standards to make China go for more economic reforms to meet the eligibility criteria to join it. China, the world’s top exporter, hit back saying that FTAAP is more inclusive and serves the interests of all countries in the region.
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