HONOLULU (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and China’s Hu Jintao will pitch differing trade agendas on Saturday as an antidote to weak global growth, as they try to sidestep the European debt crisis looming over an Asia-Pacific summit.
The heads of the world’s two biggest economies will address business leaders in back-to-back morning speeches at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO summit in Honolulu, and later meet face to face. But Obama and Hu do not see eye to eye on how best to promote transpacific trade.
Obama arrived in Hawaii late on Friday at the start of a nine-day Asian trip during which he will attempt to reassert U.S. influence over the region’s course in economic and security affairs. An unstated goal is to ensure China does not muscle the United States aside from its traditional Pacific role.
Obama hopes to leave his native state with at least the outline of a final deal on the Transpacific Partnership, a regional trade pact being negotiated between the United States and eight other countries.
Japan enhanced the stature of the U.S.-led regional trade initiative by announcing on Friday that it was interested in joining the talks, and other countries including Mexico and Canada also have indicated they might like to participate.
China is not part of these trade talks, and views them warily.
The differing views were captured on Friday in a politely pointed public exchange between top American and Chinese trade officials.
Asked whether China would join the TPP, as the talks are known, a Chinese official, Assistant Commerce Minister Yu Jianhua, noted that no invitation had been sent to Beijing.
“If one day we receive such an invitation, we will seriously study” it, Yu said.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk responded that the trade deal “is not designed to be a closed clubhouse. All are welcome. But it is also not one where you should wait for an invitation.”
China has been reluctant to sign trade deals that would subject it to U.S-led efforts to further open its economy to foreign players because that would put competitive pressure on its state-owned enterprises.
A commentary in China’s state-owned news agency Xinhua said Washington was using the trade deal as a way to enhance its influence in Asia on its own terms.
“The United States’ primary reason for actively promoting the development and expansion of the TPP is to raise its leadership in the Asia-Pacific region,” Xinhua wrote.
“The United States does not want to miss a golden opportunity with the economic development in the Asia-Pacific, and at the same time it hopes to install a fixed set of rules to guide changes in the region’s future political and economic structure.”
Hu has touted trade with China as a way to boost U.S. growth and help Obama achieve his goal of doubling exports. With Europe edging toward a recession, fast-growing Asia — led by China — is vital to sustaining global economic growth.
Developing Asia is expected to grow 8 percent in 2012, roughly four times faster than the United States, according to International Monetary Fund forecasts.
“Currently, instability and uncertainty of world economic recovery are growing,” Hu told business leaders here on Thursday. “Under this type of situation, we especially need the world to cross the river in the same boat, and respond hand-in-hand with a spirit of cooperation and mutual benefit.”
Hu’s speech on Saturday is expected to focus on steps China is taking to bolster domestic demand, and its desire for greater representation of developing economies in global forums, Chinese officials told reporters.
In another sign of tough talks ahead, trade ministers here said they were unable to agree on the terms of an initiative pushed by the United States to boost trade in clean energy and other environmentally friendly technologies. They referred the issue to APEC leaders, who will meet on Sunday.
APEC, made up of 21 economies representing more than half of global output, laid out an agenda that included promoting trade and green growth, but discussions this week invariably returned to Europe’s debt troubles.
China, with its $3.2 trillion in reserves, has come under pressure to come to Europe’s aid by buying more government debt. Two independent sources told Reuters that Europe had spurned one of China’s key demands — that it receive more IMF influence in return for increasing its support for Europe.
“Europeans have to ... provide a clear picture and provide a solution and put their hands around their own issues, and the international community is willing to help,” said Zhu Min, the IMF’s deputy managing director.
Reporting by Reuters APEC team; Writing by Emily Kaiser. Editing by Warren Strobel and Eric Walsh