Agence France Presse | September 22, 2008
US to join budding Asia-Pacific FTA
The United States has agreed to join Singapore, New Zealand, Chile and Brunei in a free trade agreement which could set the pace for a broader Asia-Pacific free trade area, officials said.
US Trade Representative Susan Schwab is expected to announce Washington’s decision to participate in the "Comprehensive Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement" at a meeting Monday with ministers from the four countries on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the officials said.
"I can confirm that the US will join," a US administration official told AFP.
The agreement, the first trade pact involving a group of Pacific Rim countries, was signed between Singapore, Chile and New Zealand in 2005 before Brunei joined it a year later.
It was commonly known as the "P4" group with a broad objective to tear down trade barriers among participants within a decade, officials said.
The US decision to join the agreement will give impetus to a long term initiative within the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to forge a Free Trade Agreement of the Asia Pacific, officials said.
APEC, comprising such nations as the United States, China, Russia, Chile, Japan, Canada, Australia and key Southeast Asian economies, account for nearly half of world trade.
Schwab will at the talks Monday announce the "launch of negotiations" for the United States to join the P4 agreement, one Asia-Pacific diplomat involved in the talks said.
Washington in March decided to hold talks with the P4 on freeing up just investment and financial services.
"The terms of the US accession to the broad agreement is to be discussed later among the five parties," the diplomat told AFP. "The investment and financial services talks will be folded into the larger agreement."
The P4 group has a "benchmark matched by few preferential trade agreements," New Zealand’s trade minister Phil Goff said during a recent Washington visit.
With many APEC members seeing the prospect of a Asia Pacific free trade area as a long term goal, Goff said "the alternative is to create a bottom-up process where like-minded countries agree to come together to liberalise trade between them at a much faster rate."
The United States has bilateral free trade agreements with Singapore and Chile but not with New Zealand or Brunei.
But its free trade pacts with South Korea, Columbia and Panama has not been ratified by the Democratic-led Congress as President George W. Bush’s administration nears the end of its term.
Bush on the sidelines of the UN meeting will on Wednesday hold talks on free trade with leaders of several nations in the Western hemisphere.
Last year, the United States exported a record 1.6 trillion dollars in goods and services to countries around the world, and in the past four quarters, trade has accounted for more than half of the growth in the US economy, the White House said at the weekend.
For the first half of 2008, the United States exported 926 billion dollars worth of goods and services, 18 per cent higher than the same period in 2007, it said. "The growth in exports has helped to strengthen the American economy."