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Clinton pushes free, fair trade agenda for APEC


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responds to lawmakers during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S. foreign policy priorities, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 1, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responds to lawmakers during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S. foreign policy priorities, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 1, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will step up efforts for free, open and transparent trade across the Asia Pacific region as it seeks to double U.S. exports in five years, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.

Clinton, addressing officials from the Asia Pacific Economic Forum, said expanding economic engagement with the Asia Pacific region remained a cornerstone of U.S. policy despite doubts at home about whether the global playing field is rigged against the United States.

"The United States seeks partnerships that are governed by reasonable, rules-based approaches that give businesses from all of our economies the chance to compete, and that are grounded in shared principles," Clinton said.

"To citizens of my own country, who see factories closing down at home as products continue to flow in from overseas, and who wonder whether economic integration will hurt their families in the long run, let me say this: Ensuring that economic engagement delivers results to the American people is a top domestic priority."

U.S. President Barack Obama will host this year's APEC summit in Hawaii in November, and Clinton said the 21-member group could help meet challenges including rising food and fuel prices, climate change and creating economic opportunity.

Obama has set the goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years as he seeks to jump-start economic growth and beat back stubbornly high unemployment.

U.S. officials say the booming economies of Asia are one key to the future, although U.S. ties to the region's heavyweight, China, remain dogged by U.S. charges that Beijing artificially undervalues its currency to win trade advantages.

A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

Clinton did not mention the China trade dispute specifically but did outline a set of U.S. priorities for the region that underscore Washington's concerns over unfair treatment.

"The United States is looking for a level playing field, an environment in which businesses rise and fall based on honest competition, rather than government manipulation," Clinton said, adding that trade ties should be open, free and transparent to ensure maximum rewards.

Clinton singled out intellectual property rights and "indigenous innovation" -- a policy some countries adopt to favor domestic technology -- as issues that need to be addressed to balance competition.

The United States hopes to finalize a free trade deal soon with South Korea, as well as agreements with Colombia and Panama, she said, adding the South Korean pact could be a model for cutting tariff restrictions and improving market access.

"Then there are the benefits that cannot be expressed in dollars: a closer political and strategic partnership with a key ally that is cemented not only by shared security concerns but by closely integrated economies," Clinton said.

She said the United States would also forge ahead with the Transpacific Partnership, a growing trade group that U.S. officials say is aimed ultimately at establishing a free trade area across the Asia Pacific region.

Clinton said the United States would push APEC to become more effective through strengthening regulatory practices, preventing technical barriers to trade and fighting poverty.

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

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