US and China tussle for trade dominance at APEC

US and China tussle for trade dominance at APEC
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaking during a conference at the APEC ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia.

NUSA DUA, Indonesia - The United States on Tuesday intensified its drive to clinch an ambitious Asia-Pacific trade pact by the end of the year, raising China's hackles at a regional summit in Indonesia.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) event, at a five-star resort on the tropical island of Bali, was aimed at breaking down trade barriers among all 21 member economies amid the gloom of a faltering global economy.

Members of APEC, which groups just over half of the global economy, voiced concerns in a closing statement about its fragile state - hours before the International Monetary Fund cut its forecasts for world growth this year and next.

"Global growth is too weak, risks remain tilted to the downside, global trade is weakening and the economic outlook suggests growth is likely to be slower and less balanced than desired," the APEC leaders' statement said Clashing agendas by the United States and China overshadowed the gathering.

US President Barack Obama had to pull out of the APEC summit because of a deepening political and financial crisis in Washington, and several leaders in Bali expressed concern about the threat of a US debt default.

But, filling in for Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry pressed on with a full-court lobbying press to try to secure agreement on the "Trans-Pacific Partnership" grouping 12 APEC nations.

Significantly, the TPP excludes China. And Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest economy, has stayed out.

After the APEC summit finished, Kerry convened a meeting of leaders of the 11 other TPP nations - including Australia, Japan, Malaysia and Mexico - in a bid to beat an against-the-odds deadline set by Obama for a deal by the end of 2013.

In a statement, the United States and its TPP partners said they were still aiming to clinch the deal in less than three months after making "significant progress" on a range of issues.

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