November 14th, 2011
06:40 AM GMT
Honolulu, Hawaii (CNN) – Under the fiery orange of a setting Hawaiian sun, with bright green palm fronds framing his television shot, U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed for one last time the message he’s pushed all weekend during this year’s APEC summit: the U.S. sees its future in Asia and is here to stay.
“No region will do more to shape our long-term economic future than the Asia-Pacific.”
As the world’s fastest growing region accounting for more than half of the world’s total GDP, Mr. Obama further stressed Asia is key to his administration goal of doubling U.S. exports. And in a clear pivot for his domestic constituents, he added that more trade means more jobs for Americans.
Its current form connects nine countries – Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States. The Office of the United States Trade Representative says the hope of the TPP is to enhance trade and investment among partner countries, promote innovation, economic growth and development, and support the creation and retention of jobs. Still in its infancy, Obama this weekend said he hopes to have a framework ready by the latter part of 2012.
At today’s end-of-summit press conference, Mr. Obama fielded about a dozen questions from the White House press corps. Topics ranged from Iran and fears of its growing nuclear capability to domestic issues including the Penn State sex scandal and the latest Republican presidential candidate debate. But one of the president’s longest answers was in regards to China which has been accused of not “playing by the rules" of international finance.
Mr. Obama prefaced his reply with positivity.
“We welcome the peaceful rise of China. It is in America’s interest to see China succeed.”
But he quickly shifted to long-running critiques.
“When it comes to economic practices there are a range of things they have done that disadvantage not just the United States but a whole host of trading partners in the region.”
That laundry list includes protection for foreign intellectual property and neglect for China’s domestic consumers but perhaps the dirtiest item of all was the issue of China’s currency. Mr. Obama said most economists estimate the yuan is undervalued between 20% and 25%.
“That means our exports to China are that much more expensive and our imports to the US are that much cheaper.”
Mr. Obama did credit Beijing for a small rise in the yuan this year – touting U.S. pressure – but he added that the revaluation still hasn’t been enough.
While summit watchers maintained cool expectations for any major breakthroughs, they were expecting one thing: seeing the region’s leaders dressed in local attire for the so-called ‘family photo’. But alas, the masses will not be treated to Asia-Pacifc heads of state in flowery, short-sleeved Hawaiian shirts.
Mr. Obama explained he was encouraged to break with tradition after looking through photographs from past APEC summits – and despite telling his counterparts in 2009 they should prepare to don the spirited shirt of his home state.
“We are here for business and to create jobs.”
But perhaps he also did it to avoid the perception that dozens of the world’s leaders are frolicking while many of the world’s economies are faltering.
Looking ahead, APEC 2012 is headed to Vladivostok. Russia’s president Dmitry Medvedev said he cannot promise it will be warm as Hawaii.
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