Pacific-wide trade accord inches forward in U.S.

Trade ministers with the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meet this week in the western U.S. state of Montana. The meeting is one of a series leading up to a summit in Hawaii in November.

With a market of more than two and a half billion consumers, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation’s 21 member countries account for about 55 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and 43 percent of global trade.

Economist Fred Bergsten says region’s rise reflects its growing importance of the region. “Things have changed a lot, particularly the relative importance of China and the other Asian members of APEC. But it’s interesting APEC has in fact renewed the goals that were initially created back in the 1993-1994 start up of the APEC summits. At that time the leaders agreed to create free trade and investment in the region by 2010 to 2020,” he said.

Despite some progress in reducing tariffs, the goal of an Asia-Pacific wide free trade zone remains largely unfulfilled.

Bergsten says a trans-Pacific partnership proposed by the U.S. would level the playing field and create new opportunities on both sides of the Pacific.

Hurdles include preferential treatment among some trading partners and uneven economic growth among member countries. Another is the currency dispute between the United States and China.

At the trade ministers meeting in Montana beginning Thursday, discussions will range from export regulations to the development of incentives to promote trade in green technologies.

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