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March 30, 2017

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APEC nations pledge support for TPP

Some might wonder why Pacific Rim leaders would be discussing troubles on the other side of the globe, Obama said, answering that "If Europe has a major recession, that will have a direct impact on our growth and ability to create jobs."

The U.S. Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, welcomed the overtures from Canada and Mexico about joining the so called TPP, issuing a statement calling them America's "neighbors and largest export markets."

But China, which some economists say is on course to overtake the U.S. as the world's biggest economy this decade, has appeared reluctant to endorse the Pacific trade pact, likely wary of being drawn into what has become a U.S.-led initiative that encroaches on its own sphere of influence in Asia. China also has commitments to rival free trade blocs in East and Southeast Asia.

The TPP group now includes only four smaller, relatively affluent economies — Chile, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore — but the U.S., Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Peru are negotiating to join.

U.S. officials have said all are welcome to come on board, while indicating that the agreement's high standards would pose a challenge to countries whose economies are not fully open. That would likely include Russia, which is close to gaining long-sought membership of the World Trade Organization, and China, which has staked out large sections of its economy for protection from foreign competition.

Obama has said he is optimistic that work on the American-backed trade pact could result in a legal framework by next year.

For the U.S., the initiative is seen as a way to break through bottlenecks and open new business opportunities. Many in APEC see the emerging deal as a building block for a free trade area that eventually encompasses all of Asia and the Pacific — covering half the world's commerce and two-fifths of its trade.

"The Asia Pacific region is absolutely critical to America's economic growth. We consider it a top priority. And we consider it a top priority because we're not going to be able to put our folks back to work and grow our economy and expand opportunity unless the Asia Pacific region is also successful," Obama told fellow leaders earlier Sunday.

Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an influential business lobbying group, praised the Pacific trade initiative.

"An important step to unlocking global economic growth will be expanding trade in the Asia-Pacific, and the TPP holds this key," Donohue said. He urged the group to move quickly in drawing up a timeline that is "comprehensive, enforceable, and makes room for new entrants."

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