By Xu Lingui
SINGAPORE, Nov. 14 (Xinhua) -- Washington is ready to further engage with Asia through trade and hopes a closer linkage with the world's fastest growing economies will help the United States recover sooner from the recession, a senior U.S. official said here Saturday, as President Barack Obama is on his maiden visit to the region.
"If we want to create the jobs Americans need, we must gain access to Asia-Pacific markets," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told businessmen attending the CEO Summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Singapore. "It is clear that Asia-Pacific economies are critical partners."
The top U.S. trade official also announced that Obama, who is leaving Japan for Singapore late Saturday on his first Asian trip, has promised Washington's commitment to engage in the four-member Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trading framework believed to have the potential to develop into a sweeping cross-Pacific free trade pact.
Signed by New Zealand, Chile, Singapore and Brunei in 2005, the Partnership is aimed to promote regional trade and economic integration.
"We believe a high-standard regional trade agreement under the Trans-Pacific Partnership can help bring home to the American people the jobs and economic prosperity," said Kirk, encouraging future participants to help bring the TPP into a platform to successfully integrate the Asia-Pacific economies.
Among 42 bilateral and regional free trade agreements signed between 21 APEC members -- which account for 50 percent of the world's output and 40 percent of the global trade -- the U.S. participates in just six, according to official data and media reports.
On the other hand, trade dispute between the United States and China has been rising over the past few months. Washington is being accused of taking up protectionism measures as it decided to slap anti-dumping duties on China-made steel pipes and tyres, a move believed to protect jobs at home.
Obama's first Asia trip, including his attendance at the APEC summit Sunday, is widely expected to accelerate Washington's efforts to engage with East Asia and solve trade issues with China, the powerhouse in the current global economic recovery.
The International Monetary Fund expects Asia to grow 2.75 percent in 2009 and 5.75 percent in 2010. On the contrary, in the U.S., the economy barely expanded 0.9 percent in the third quarter this year and the jobless rate hit a 26-year high of 10.2 percent in October.
Kirk said it is important for Asia-Pacific economies to cooperate at a time of crisis.
"We are confident and comforted by the reality that we are slowly turning the corner on the crisis, but we are sobered by the reality that we still have challenges ahead," Kirk said. "To bring the world back from the economic brink, we must all work together."
He said it is "imperative" for all Asia-Pacific economies to "break down long-standing barriers to trade and investments as well as newer impediments that obstruct trade and slow economic integration."
Obama, who is arriving in Singapore late Saturday, is expected to join other regional leaders -- including China's Hu Jintao, Japan's Yukio Hatoyama and Russia's Dmitry Medvedev -- to renew their commitment to an APEC vision to achieve free and open trade by 2010 among developed members, and by 2020 by developing members.
Leaders are also expected to pledge a political commitment to resume the World Trade Organization (WTO)-sponsored Doha Round of global trade talks which started in 2001 but repeatedly missed deadlines to complete over wide disputes on agriculture.
The reluctance of the U.S. and Europe to substantially roll back farm subsidies is blamed for the lack of progress of the Doha Round of trade talks, which aims to help poor countries prosper through global trade.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, among others, have called on Washington to advance the trade talks -- stalled after the U.S., Europe failed to agree with developing countries such as India and Brazil on agricultural trade.
"It is imperative to complete the Doha Round by next year. And we are seeking some real leadership by advanced countries, particularly the United States to bring the successful conclusion of the Doha Round," Najib told the APEC forum on Friday.
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