APECs trade pact progresses in Boracay

Trade ministers from 21 Asia-Pacific economies agreed Sunday on details of a study to identify challenges and ways toward the creation of a region-wide free trade zone, as they wrapped up a two-day meeting in the Philippines.

The ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum welcome the progress on the Collective Strategic Study on crystallizing the idea of the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific, they said in a statement released after the meeting on the resort island of Boracay.

We acknowledge the importance of this study in providing useful analysis of the opportunities and challenges ahead, it said. The ministers instructed officials to report progress on the study for the ambitious free trade initiative by November when their leaders are slated to meet, with an eye to completing it by the end of 2016.

Last November, APEC leaders affirmed at a summit in Beijing their commitment to realizing the FTAAP as early as possible and agreed to launch the strategic study.

The action comes as negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade initiative that includes the United States and Japan but not China seen as a counter to Beijings growing influence in the region have stalled despite Washington striving to secure a deal by this summer.

On Sunday, ministers from the 12 TPP countries held an informal breakfast meeting on the sidelines of the APEC gathering, and assessed the progress achieved in recent working-level negotiations, according to industry minister Yoichi Miyazawa.

Miyazawa told reporters that the ministers did not engage in negotiations themselves but confirmed their strong will to conclude the TPP talks, which have bogged down due to the unclear prospects for a crucial U.S. bill for fast-track approval of a trade deal.

At the APEC, the 21 economies also emphasized the importance of quality infrastructure in mitigating environmental risks and enhancing resilience to natural disasters in the fast-growing region.

We encourage officials to explore initiatives to secure quality of infrastructure across various sectors, the statement said.

The idea was initiated by Japan and supported by the United States during the meeting, Japanese officials said, amid Chinas growing influence in the regions infrastructure development, underscored by the planned establishment of the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The APEC forum groups Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

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