Obama boosts hopes for free trade


POSTED: Sunday, November 15, 2009

President Barack Obama and other Asia-Pacific leaders agreed today that next month's much-anticipated climate summit in Denmark will be merely a way station, not the once hoped-for end point, in the search for a worldwide global warming treaty.

Obama arrived last night in Singapore for the annual 21-nation APEC summit that had begun without him early that morning. In remarks to the group on trade—the subject of most interest to rapidly growing, commerce-happy East and Southeast Asia—Obama had a good-news, bad-news message. He said the United States would engage with nations in a trans-Pacific free-trade partnership to shape a new regional agreement, a move seen as crucial to creating a possible Asia-Pacific free trade zone.

But he said the pact must have broad-based membership and “;the high standards worthy of a 21st century trade agreement.”; He also sounded a sterner note, cautioning that Asia's export-led growth must give way to more balanced strategies.

His chief focus, though, was more on side meetings, including one with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev where he hoped to nudge forward a major new arms-control pact. The two nations are in talks on a successor to a Cold War-era agreement that expires in December.

Obama also was sitting down with Indonesia's Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of the world's largest Muslim nation and Obama's home as a boy.

And the president planned another milestone: joining a larger APEC meeting that includes the leader of military-ruled Myanmar. Obama is sure to face criticism at home for doing so.