Washington, D.C. – The U.S. will continue to focus on its own blueprint for a comprehensive Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), according to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.
Speaking at the APEC Summit in Beijing, Froman told reporters that a China-backed “vision” for Asia-Pacific free trade is only a “long-term aspiration, not the launch of a new FTA (free trade area).”
“It’s a reaffirmation of a long-term aspiration for the region that’s to be achieved through other ongoing negotiations,” he said.
Froman remarks define an on-going divergence in the approach to a Pacific regional trade accord by the two largest trade players in the region, the U.S. and China.
Beijing has thrown its support behind the FTAAP idea, while the U.S. is working towards crafting the long-sought 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which excludes China.
According to media reports, a draft final communique of the Beijing-hosted summit prominently mentions the importance of FTAAP calling for steps to be taken to “translate the FTAAP from a vision to reality” and craft a “strategic study.”
In response, Froman said, the TPP remains “a priority” and that it would serve as a “building block” for the FTAAP, which has a 2025 target date.
“TPP of course is the major focus of our economic pillar of the rebalance to this region,” he said, referring to the White House’s publically-stated goal of giving greater attention to the Asia-Pacific area.
“We certainly view TPP as our contribution to expanding trade and integrating the region,” he said, adding that, despite sluggish negotiations and frustrating snags, the TPP discussions have made “very significant progress”, but he refused to be drawn on a timetable for completing the process.