US Trade Representative Ron Kirk speaks during the closing ministerial meetings press conference at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 11, 2011. - Photo by AFP

HONOLULU: Leaders working to forge a Pacific free trade bloc plan to announce an outline for achieving that goal at an annual Asia-Pacific summit this weekend, one of many initiatives aimed at fending off recession as Europe struggles to resolve its debt crisis.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk ended a meeting of regional trade ministers with praise for Japan's decision on Friday to join negotiations on a US-backed free trade arrangement that is viewed by many in the region as a basic building block for an eventual free trade zone encompassing all of Asia and the Pacific Rim.

The so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership is intended to complement other efforts to promote free trade, and other countries can join if they are willing to meet the very high standards required, Kirk said.

The APEC agenda has gained urgency with warnings from the European Union that its debt crisis could trigger a ''deep and prolonged recession'' next year.

Such a recession would be felt sharply in the US, where growth is already anemic, and in Asia, which relies on Europe as a big market for its cars, clothing, consumer electronics and other exports.

But China, which some economists say is on course to overtake the US as the world's biggest economy this decade, has been lukewarm about the Pacific trade pact.

Kirk said the ministers expect leaders of the countries involved in the so-called TPP to announce the broad outlines of a ''high-standards, ambitious 21st-century trade pact.''

''Of course, many of us believe that the Trans-Pacific Partnership can be the basis for a long-term APEC goal of a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific,'' he said.

At their summit, the leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum also will endorse a range of ''meaningful steps which will strengthen regional economic integration and expand trade,'' he said.

Such strategies include better food security, increased trade and investment in environmental products and services, better access to financing for small and medium-size companies, faster customs clearance and greater harmony in regulatory standards.

The aim is to make it ''cheaper, faster, and easier to do business in the APEC region,'' according to a statement released by the ministers.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the ministerial meeting that by agreeing on something as rudimentary as shared safety standards for televisions, countries in the region saw exports of TVs jump by nearly half in three years.

By removing barriers and bottlenecks that slow business, APEC members hope to re-energize growth at a time when the world economy most needs dynamism in the Asia-Pacific region to offset the malaise spreading from crisis-stricken Europe.

At the same time they are working toward a broader agreement, countries are continuing to forge separate free-trade deals.

''In the coming 12 months there is quite a strong likelihood that things will go worse,'' Hong Kong's chief executive, Donald Tsang, told a gathering of business leaders on the sidelines of the APEC meetings.

''Global performance will be dragged down and then there will be an awakening, I hope,'' he said.

The US recently clinched long-sought free trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. Agreements that if ratified will bring to 20 the number of countries that have free trade agreements with the US.

On Friday, Vietnam and Chile signed a free trade agreement on the sidelines of the APEC meetings that will further boost the already thriving trade between the two in Chilean copper and steel and Vietnamese garments, rice and coffee.

Japan has announced no timetable for joining the trans-Pacific free trade group, only its intention to join, a senior Japanese government official said on Friday.

But the inclusion of the world's third-largest economy would vastly expand the reach of the trade pact, which now includes the smaller economies of Chile, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore. The US, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Peru are negotiating to join.

To participate, Japan will have to eliminate tariffs on imports from all member economies; a reciprocal move that its major manufacturers say will improve access to foreign markets and help keep the country from falling behind regional trading rivals.

Japan's trade minister, Yukio Edano, backed the decision to join and said his government was well aware of the challenges it will face.

But he has argued that by delaying further, Tokyo would lose the opportunity to help shape the trading bloc from the start.

China, the world's second-biggest economy, has appeared tepid toward the plan, with an official saying in Beijing earlier this week that it might be ''overly ambitious.''

Follow Dawn Business on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook for insights on business, finance and tech from Pakistan and across the world.

Opinion

Editorial

Bad measures
Updated 25 Jul, 2024

Bad measures

It is most unfortunate that matters have come to this, and both sides deserve equal blame.
Hamas-Fatah deal
25 Jul, 2024

Hamas-Fatah deal

THE Beijing Declaration signed in the Chinese capital on Tuesday reiterates the need for internal Palestinian unity...
Rating risks
25 Jul, 2024

Rating risks

FINANCE Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb’s recent discussions with the executives of the two top global credit rating...
Reforming militants
24 Jul, 2024

Reforming militants

Such initiatives have been tried before, in Swat for instance, at centres run by the military as well as NGOs.
IPP debate
24 Jul, 2024

IPP debate

A FIERCE debate blaming the exorbitant electricity prices on expensive power purchase agreements with IPPs has been...
Political vendettas
24 Jul, 2024

Political vendettas

IT seems that the PML-N and PPP need to be reminded again that they are doing themselves a considerable disservice ...