ZOELLICK’S ASIAN TOUR HITS CHINA

Byline: Kristi Ellis

WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who discussed regional and bilateral trade relations with his counterparts in Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand last week, has extended his trip to include China and Japan this week.
Against the backdrop of the Bush administration’s decision last month to slap import tariffs on European Union steel, U.S. officials originally said last week that scheduling problems might force Zoellick to skip China and Japan, which have sided with the EU on the steel issue.
However, the office of the USTR announced Zoellick went to China on a visit that started Monday and will end Wednesday, and will then meet with senior Japanese government officials on Thursday.
“I welcome the opportunity to discuss with my Chinese and Japanese colleagues the economic conditions in and growth prospects for our countries, as a basis for expanded trade, investment and economic cooperation,” Zoellick said in a statement.
Zoellick wrapped up talks with trade officials in Southeast Asia on Sunday, where he said he discussed expanding U.S.-Thai bilateral trade ties, developed an “action agenda” to expand trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and crafted an “integrated sourcing initiative” with Indonesia by extending the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.
Many goods exported by Singapore are assembled there but contain parts made in Indonesia and other countries in the region. The new proposal would make it easier for high tech electronic products to qualify as Singapore-made. Textiles and apparel made on the islands are not covered in the proposal and would not receive duty and quota breaks.
A cautiously worded joint statement issued by Thailand and the U.S. said the talks addressed the “full range of trade issues, including consultations on the elements of a possible free-trade agreement,” according to wire reports. Zoellick stressed that a trade pact with Thailand was only a “possibility.”
Zoellick’s sentiment was the same in a meeting in Bangkok with ASEAN ministers on Friday. Along with Thailand, ASEAN is comprised of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
Zoellick said in a news conference that he touched on proposals for a free-trade area with the ASEAN nations, but also noted that it was premature to talk about a time frame.
On the Indonesian islands of Batam and Bintan, Zoellick met with Singapore Trade Minister George Yeo and announced a proposal to extend trade breaks to certain technological products as part of the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.
U.S. trade officials have proposed strict rules of origin for textiles and apparel in the proposed pact, which is currently being negotiated.