Pacific Rim countries seek accord on open markets at APEC

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono, center, attends the opening of the APEC Ministerial Meeting, ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit leaders meetings in the central Vietnamese city of Danang Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. (Hoang Dinh Nam/Pool Photo via AP)

DANANG, Vietnam (AP) — Foreign and trade ministers of 21 Pacific Rim economies were working Wednesday to reach a consensus on open markets despite the U.S. pushback on “free trade” ahead of summit meetings in Vietnam’s coastal resort city this week.

“The global and regional landscapes are experiencing continued shifts with intertwining opportunities and challenges. Economic recovery is firming but projected growth rates are still below pre-crisis averages,” Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pham Binh Minh told the ministers as they sat down to work out details of a declaration the leaders customarily issue at their annual summit.

Many in the region worry over how efforts to boost productivity through automation might affect their own lives. But the host for this summit, Vietnam, is using the occasion to showcase the progress its economy has made thanks largely to opening to foreign investment and trade.

Danang, Vietnam’s third largest city and the summit venue, is in the midst of a construction boom as dozens of resorts and smaller hotels pop up along its scenic coastline.

The country is a major garment exporter and the largest production base for Samsung Electronics’ mobile phones.

Just a year after Donald Trump was elected U.S. president on a platform that rejected a Pacific Rim trade pact in favor of country-to-country deals and what he calls “fair” rather than free trade, other members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, seem united in their support for the multilateral efforts to set rules on trade and investment.

After the U.S. withdrawal from the pact, the 11 remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are trying to reach agreement on a new deal that would enable them to move forward without U.S. participation. Japanese officials said earlier they hoped for a basic “framework” agreement on the sidelines of the two-day APEC summit starting Friday.

Vietnam, a TPP member, is considered one of the developing economies most likely to benefit from a deal that the administration of President Barrack Obama had said would set a “gold standard” for trade rules in the 21st century.

“Given the rapid changes and uncertainty the global economy is now facing, this will convey a strong message that reflects steadfastness and determination of APEC in pursuing a free and open region for trade and investment,” Trang Tuan Anh, the Vietnamese minister of industry and trade, told the meeting Wednesday.

It’s unclear whether APEC, whose decisions require a consensus but are not legally binding, will succeed in reaching agreement on a declaration condemning protectionism. At a meeting in May, trade ministers failed to concur on that issue. Instead, Vietnam issued a chairman’s statement that cited the “un-unified but prevailing views of APEC economies.”