A SUMMIT meeting of Pacific Rim leaders moved into high gear
Thursday, admitting Mexico and Papua New Guinea and promising Chile
Top ministers from 17 countries making up the Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation group met to lay the groundwork for today's
gathering. Then President Bill Clinton, flush with victory on the
North American Free Trade Agreement, will press his Asian
counterparts to keep up the momentum on sweeping away barriers to
With the NAFTA vote behind him, Clinton is in Seattle with a
stronger hand to seek concessions. White House officials had feared
that a defeat on NAFTA would have undercut his position in his
dealings with Asian and Pacific leaders whose powerhouse economies
account for 40 percent of the world's commerce.
Pacific Rim leaders were preparing to deal with a young
American president newly pumped up with confidence and dreaming of
a trans-Pacific partnership to dwarf even the emerging trade blocs
in Europe and the Americas.
"He has a big triumph under his belt, and that will give him a
strong position for negotiating here," said one Asian delegate.
Still savoring the House approval of NAFTA, Mexico found new
cause for celebration Thursday when U.S. Secretary of State Warren
M. Christopher announced that Mexico, along with Papua New Guinea,
was being admitted to the group. Member nations have a combined
gross national product of $13 trillion.
But Christopher said that following Chile's entry next year,
the 4-year-old group would impose a three-year freeze on new
members "to allow us to consolidate our efforts." That dashes the
immediate hopes of more than a dozen nations, including Russia,
India, Pakistan and Peru, that have expressed interest in joining.
The group is a market of 2 billion people with the
trans-Pacific flow now 1 1/2 times the volume of trans-Atlantic
trade. About 2.5 million U.S. jobs rely on business with Asia.
Christopher opened the meeting of foreign and trade ministers
Thursday by proclaiming that no part of the world was more
important to the United States than the Pacific Rim.
"We're committed to expanding our ties with Asia," he said,
echoing the theme that U.S. officials have sounded repeatedly
leading up to the Pacific Rim summit meeting.
He said Wednesday's NAFTA victory "sent a message throughout
the region that the United States is committed to trade and global
But that could not compare with Clinton's impassioned victory
speech following his administration's biggest moment. "In an
economy where competition is global and change is the only
constant," Clinton said Wednesday night after the vote, "our only
choice is to take this new world head-on."
Buy any evolution of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation
group into a Pacific NAFTA would be years off - and not necessarily
welcomed by some Asian states fearful of U.S. bullying, like
Malaysia; or with shaky human rights records, like China; or with
huge trade surpluses like Japan.
A sample of potential spats to come occurred Wednesday. U.S.
leaders repeated their intention to link trading privileges for
China to improved human rights, and China immediately signaled that
it would not be pushed around by the United States.
Formed in 1989 and so far just a forum for discussing trade,
the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group links Australia,
Brunei, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea,
Malaysia, the Philippines, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand
and the United States - and now Mexico and Papua New Guinea. …