US to join Asia-Pacific free trade agreement

US to join Asia-Pacific free trade agreement

United Nations: The United States has agreed to join Singapore, New Zealand, Chile and Brunei in a free trade agreement which could set the pace for a broader Asia-Pacific free trade area, officials said.

US Trade Representative Susan Schwab is expected to announce Washington’s decision to participate in the “Comprehensive Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement" at a meeting today with ministers from the four countries on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the officials said.

“I can confirm that the US will join," a US administration official said.

The agreement, the first trade pact involving a group of Pacific Rim countries, was signed between Singapore, Chile and New Zealand in 2005 before Brunei joined it a year later.

It was commonly known as the “P4" group with a broad objective to tear down trade barriers among participants within a decade, officials said.

The US decision to join the agreement will give impetus to a long term initiative within the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to forge a Free Trade Agreement of the Asia Pacific, officials said.

APEC, comprising such nations as the United States, China, Russia, Chile, Japan, Canada, Australia and key Southeast Asian economies, account for nearly half of world trade.

Schwab will at the talks today announce the “launch of negotiations" for the United States to join the P4 agreement, one Asia-Pacific diplomat involved in the talks said.

Washington in March decided to hold talks with the P4 on freeing up just investment and financial services.