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APEC leaders, including Trump, agree on free trade

Leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, including US President Donald Trump, have pledged to work toward free, open and non-discriminatory trade and investment to revive their coronavirus-battered economies.The leaders cast aside differences to issue their first joint statement on Friday since 2017, in which they agreed to further deepen regional integration by working toward a massive free trade agreement involving the 21 APEC economies.

This year’s host, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, told a news conference that the US-China trade war that had hampered talks in the past has “been eclipsed” by the Covid-19 pandemic. “The health risks and its impact on the global economic ecosystem has been the major priority agenda for all APEC economies this year,” he said. With growth in the Asia-Pacific region expected to slump 2.7% this year, from a 3.6% growth in 2019, he said APEC’s focus was on accelerating economic recovery and developing an affordable vaccine.

The APEC leaders’ meeting was the first since 2018 after last year’s host, Chile, cancelled the annual summit due to violent domestic protests. But at the Papua New Guinea summit in 2018, APEC leaders failed to issue a joint statement for the first time amid a US-China row over trade policies. Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his remarks, urged countries to “defend multilateralism” and called for the establishment of an “Asia-Pacific free trade zone at an early date.” Trump’s participation Friday, his first since 2017, came as a surprise as he challenges the outcome of the US presidential election, won by Joe Biden. Last weekend, Trump skipped the East Asia Summits and withdrew from speaking at an APEC CEO meeting.

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