Trump and Xi meet in a hypothetical Asia-Pacific forum as the trade row rages

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will attend a virtual summit of Asia-Pacific leaders on Friday to discuss the coronavirus and global economic recovery, and the meeting is likely to be overshadowed by lingering trade disputes.

The two will attend a leaders’ meeting of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) which Malaysia hosts nearly two weeks after Trump lost his bid for re-election.

Asia-Pacific leaders called for more open and multilateral trade to support the economic recovery, and warned against protectionist trade policies.

After coming to power in 2017, Trump imposed billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese products, sparking a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

At the last APEC summit in 2018, member states failed to agree on a joint statement for the first time in the bloc’s history as the United States and China differed over trade and investments.

In the lead up to Friday’s meeting, many APEC leaders warned of protectionism as the world grapples with the economic impact of the novel coronavirus.

“As we face the greatest economic challenge of this generation, we must not repeat the mistakes of history by retreating to protectionism,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Friday, speaking at the CEO Dialogues at APEC.

“APEC should continue to be committed to keeping markets open and trade flowing.”

On Thursday, Xi said that “increasing unilateralism, protectionism, bullying, as well as backlash against economic globalization” has increased risks and uncertainties in the global economy.

He said China will remain committed to multilateralism, openness and cooperation.

Other leaders in Asia and the Pacific also expressed hope that the Biden administration would be more involved and support multilateral trade.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Friday that Japan aims to expand the comprehensive and progressive agreement to the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership Agreement, which could meet the interest of China and Britain in joining the agreement.

Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership Agreement, which preceded the TPP. The United States is also absent from the world’s largest free trade conglomerate, the Comprehensive Regional Partnership Agreement (RCEP) – an agreement of 15 countries backed by China that was signed last week.

The Trump administration has come under fire for its low level of participation in Asia. The only time he joined the APEC summit – which is held annually – was in 2017. Last year’s summit in Chile was canceled due to violent protests.

Trump also missed two hypothetical meetings in Asia last week: the 10-member ASEAN summit and the broader East Asia Summit.

Other than working on a joint statement, APEC leaders are also expected to discuss the bloc’s post-2020 vision, which will replace the 1994 Bogor Goals – a set of goals on reducing barriers to trade and investment – that expire this year.

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