Heavy sales talk on trade by Beijing

China | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 15 Nov 2018

China is touting itself as the new defender of global commerce as it works with Asia-Pacific leaders to hammer out the world's largest trade deal - with the United States on the sidelines.

Many leaders are in Singapore this week, with the Beijing-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership covering half the world's people dominating discussions.

The meetings are the biggest in a series of annual gatherings organized by the Association of Southeast Nations and are attended by 20 leaders.

But US President Donald Trump is not in Singapore and will not be at a subsequent gathering of leaders in Papua New Guinea at the end of the week, having sent Vice President Mike Pence instead.

Representatives of Japan, India and other Asia-Pacific countries as well as China have been trying to nail down details as Beijing entices neighbors to join a pact seen as an antidote to Trump's "America First" policy.

The United States has imposed tariffs on roughly half of what it imports from China, prompting Beijing to retaliate with its own levies.

Beijing had hoped to have the deal sealed by the end of the year, but the timetable has slipped to 2019.

Premier Li Keqiang said he was hopeful talks would "break through the ceiling" and take regional trade "to new heights."

The RCEP concept was given impetus after Trump pulled the United States out of the rival Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was spearheaded by predecessor Barack Obama and aimed to bind fast-growing Asian powers into an American-backed order to counter China.

The TPP is still alive without Washington - it takes effect next month - but RCEP would be the world's biggest trade deal.

The Beijing-backed pact is, however, much less ambitious than the TPP in areas such as employment and the environment.

And sticking points include Indian reluctance to give Chinese firms more access to its markets.

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