Peru president, APEC host, warns of threats to free trade


LIMA, Peru (AP) — The U.S. presidential election is a sign of growing hostility to free trade that threatens the global economy, the president of Peru warned Friday as he opened an Asian-Pacific summit hosted by his nation.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski told delegates gathering in Lima for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum that global trade already stopped growing in the last two years and would get much worse if nations close off their economies.

“It is fundamental that world trade grow again and that protectionism be defeated,” Kuczynski said.

The Peruvian leader cited the U.S. election, though he did not specifically mention President-elect Donald Trump, who pledged to overhaul U.S. trade policy and tear up trade agreements such as NAFTA or the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

Kuczynski, a U.S.-trained economist and former investment fund manager who took office this year, also cited the vote in June by Britain to leave the European Union as evidence that “protectionist tendencies are taking over” in the world.

“And for anyone who wants to promote protection I suggest they read an economic history of the 1930s,” he said, a reference to the Great Depression that many argue was aggravated by protectionist policies.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, also touched on the U.S. and British elections as she called for action to address rising economic inequality that has accompanied increased global trade.

“The social and political consequences are now becoming all too apparent,” she told an audience at the Universidad del Pacífico after an appearance at APEC. “Voters in the United States and the United Kingdom, for example, have sent clear signals of concern about migration, trade and technological change.”

APEC has brought more than 1,000 delegates from 21 countries, representing nearly 40 percent of the world’s population, to Lima for a forum aimed at easing global commerce. U.S. President Barack Obama was expected to arrive late Friday for his last international summit before leaving office in January. Also expected were Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Obama had been expected to promote the TPP, which would have included 12 members of APEC but not China. That trade pact is now considered politically dead because of Trump’s victory. The Chinese president is expected to seek support for an alternate agreement backed by his country that would include all 21 countries in the organization.

But not all countries were ready to throw in the towel on the TPP.

Mexican Finance Minister Idelfonso Fajardo said he met with officials from five other signatories to the pact — Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Japan and Singapore — on the sidelines of the summit and they agreed to forge ahead regardless of what the new U.S. administration decides.

Kuczynski and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later issued a statement saying they would work to see that the treaty goes into effect. “Both leaders agree that the TPP is not only important geopolitically and in terms of trade, but also for the stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region as a whole,” it said.

It’s unclear if they’ll succeed. Under terms of the TPP agreement signed this year in New Zealand, the vast free trade agreement can only be implemented if it is ratified by at least six countries that account for 85 percent of the combined gross domestic production of the 12 TPP nations.

APEC ministers, meeting ahead of the leaders’ summit, endorsed a study of the Chinese-backed plan and called for further talks in a joint statement issued Friday that also echoed concerns about protectionism. “Faced with rising skepticism over trade and stagnated trade growth, we reiterate our commitment to build an open economy in the Asia-Pacific,” it said.

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