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Obama to begin 9-day Asia-Pacific trip with economic conference

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:39 AM EST, Sat November 12, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama departs for Hawaii and a weekend Asian-Pacific economic conference
  • The remainder of the nine-day trip takes him to Australia and Indonesia
  • Obama will push a trans-Pacific trade agreement at the summit

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama begins a nine-day trip through the Asia-Pacific region Saturday with a stop in Hawaii for a weekend economic conference where he will press for progress on a trans-Pacific free trade agreement.

The administration is taking care to highlight the importance of strong Asia-Pacific relations to the president's efforts to create jobs domestically.

"The U.S. exports to this region are essential to the president's goal of doubling U.S. exports in the next several years," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters in a briefing Wednesday. "In fact, nearly all of the efforts that we're going to be making towards that export goal take place in this part of the world."

The 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum account for 55% of the world's gross domestic product, 43% of world trade and 58% of U.S. exports, according to the group.

"So I think when the American people see the president traveling in the Asia-Pacific, they will see him advocating for U.S. jobs and U.S. businesses," Rhodes said. "He will be trying to open new markets, and he will be trying to achieve new export initiatives, and he will be trying to foster a trade agreement through the, for instance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that takes us beyond the Korea Free Trade Agreement towards a multilateral agreement that, again, has very high standards to ensure that our interests are being protected."

The Obama administration is pushing for the expanded trade agreement to help boost reduce barriers to U.S. exports, boost trade and create jobs.

The United States has been negotiating with Singapore, Chile, New Zealand, Brunei, Australia, Peru and Vietnam develop the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk's office says would eventually expand to include most of the APEC's 21 nations.

No final decisions are expected on the agreement this weekend. Rhodes said he expects the leaders to discuss progress negotiated at the ministerial level and begin looking toward the next phase of discussions. But he declined to put a timetable on the negotiations.

During the APEC conference in Honolulu, Obama is also scheduled to have a discussion with business leaders, as well as side meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

After a break Monday for a political fundraiser, Obama is scheduled to depart Tuesday for Australia and later Bali, Indonesia, where he will stress the U.S. role in the Asia-Pacific region and seek to reassure U.S. allies of the nation's continued commitment to the region, Rhodes said.

He is scheduled to leave Bali on November 19.

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