Summit: Free Trade In Asia-Pacific Vital To Recovery

President Obama has a low-key day in Hawaii Monday, before he flies to Australia and Indonesia. His weekend was full of diplomatic meetings at a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders. The president believes the U.S. has not paid enough attention to that region over the last decade. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, he's promising to devote more resources the Pacific Rim.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning.

Here's the way some thinkers on American foreign policy see the world right now. They see today's big issues like, for example, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as extremely important, yet also, on some level, a distraction.

MONTAGNE: President Obama has argued a big part of America's future lies elsewhere, with the growing economies along the Pacific Rim, if the U.S. could only find a breathing room to focus on them. With that in mind, the president flies, this week, to Australia and Indonesia.

INSKEEP: He spent the weekend meeting Asia Pacific leaders in Hawaii, NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from Honolulu.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Obama seemed to relish showing off his hometown to visiting world leaders this weekend. On Saturday, he joked that he would be happy to show anyone the hospital where he was born. And on Sunday, he held a news conference in front of the glittering blue Pacific Ocean, with palm trees swaying lazily behind him in the setting sun.

He thanked the Islanders for their aloha spirit in the face of mammoth traffic jams.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Usually when Michelle and I and our daughters come back to visit, it's just one president and this time we brought 21.

SHAPIRO: This spot in the middle of the ocean is a fitting venue for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. APEC's members ring the Pacific, from the Americas to Asia. The president argues that this region holds a key to a domestic economic recovery.

OBAMA: This is where we sell most of our exports, supporting some five million American jobs. And since this is the world's fastest growing region, the Asia Pacific is key to achieving my goal of doubling U.S. exports.

SHAPIRO: Nearly every time President Obama spoke publicly this weekend, he mentioned American jobs. He wants to reassure people on the mainland that when he travels to far-off places to meet with foreign leaders, he's doing it to help the U.S. economy. Those foreign leaders need reassurances of their own from Mr. Obama.

China is growing stronger, and countries in its shadow want to know that the U.S. will push back against what they see as China's unfair trade practices. President Obama tried to provide that assurance.

OBAMA: The U.S. and other countries, I think understandably, feel that enough is enough.

SHAPIRO: One response is a free trade alliance spanning the Pacific Ocean. The Trans-Pacific Partnership includes eight countries plus the United States. They agreed on a framework for the deal this weekend, with details to come over the next year. The team got a boost when Japan, Canada, and Mexico expressed interest in adding their names to the list.

China is not in the club. Here's why.

OBAMA: We tried to set up rules that are universal, that everybody can follow, and then we play by those rules and then we compete fiercely. But we don't try to game the system. That's part of what leadership's about.

SHAPIRO: Mr. Obama met one-on-one with China's president here, as well as leaders of Russia, Japan, and Canada.

In addition to trade, the leaders discussed Iran's nuclear program. The U.S. wants China and Russia to put more pressure on Iran.

OBAMA: All three of us entirely agree on the objective, which is making sure that Iran does not weaponize nuclear power and that we don't trigger a nuclear arms race in the region.

SHAPIRO: But there were no major breakthroughs on stricter sanctions or any other steps that could accomplish the objective.

The president has almost a week of travel still ahead of him before he returns home. In Australia and Indonesia, he'll shift his focus from economic to military concerns. He comes back to Washington just a few days before a congressional supercommittee's deadline to find more than a trillion dollars in deficit reductions.

Some people have criticized the president for leaving Washington at such a crucial moment. Mr. Obama says the members have known for months what they need to do, they just have to do it.

OBAMA: There's no magic formula. There are no magic beans that you can toss in the ground and suddenly a bunch of money grows on trees. We've got to just go ahead and do the responsible thing.

SHAPIRO: President Obama made his stamp on this APEC summit in another way too. He decided not to continue the group photo tradition of world leaders wearing vibrant local outfits. He says he gave everybody an Aloha shirt and told them they could wear it for the photo if they want. But, he says, I didn't hear a lot of complaints about us breaking precedent on that one.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Honolulu.

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