SEATTLE — President Clinton, his prestige enhanced in the eyes of Asian trading partners after his triumph on the North American Free Trade Agreement, arrived at the Pacific Rim summit Thursday determined to press for still wider liberalization of world trade.
But the President's crusade for opening up commerce will face heavy slogging through the bog of regional rivalries, economic nationalism and arcane disputes that occupy other members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group that is now meeting here.
Asian delegates to the APEC forum had openly applauded Clinton's NAFTA victory in Congress on Wednesday night as a strike against protectionism.
Yet indications are that they have little enthusiasm for U.S. desires to put the consultative group on a fast track toward a pan-Pacific free trade area.
Moreover, unresolved bilateral disputes over rising trade surpluses and market barriers in Japan and other Asian countries appeared likely to limit the results gained from the summit talks Clinton will host with Asian leaders today and Saturday.
Still, Clinton was upbeat in his airport arrival remarks.
"Ultimately this meeting is about the jobs, the income, the opportunity of the American people," he said. "The only way we can turn this around is to have more growth, not only in America but in the world. We have to bring down barriers."
Before leaving Washington, Clinton said: "By taking the courageous step of opening trade in our own hemisphere, we have the economic, the political and the moral standing to make the case that that ought to be done throughout the world, that America is serious about lowering trade barriers and promoting growth in our country and throughout the globe."
APEC, a government-to-government group aimed at promoting trade, investment and economic integration in the Pacific region, expanded its membership Wednesday to 17 members, adding Mexico and Papua New Guinea to its roster of nations and economies across the Asia-Pacific region. Participants in the annual ministerial meeting also agreed to admit Chile at next year's meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Mexico's secretary of foreign relations, Fernando Solana Morales, said Mexico had been aggressively pursuing expanded economic ties with Asia and hoping to join APEC even before NAFTA negotiations got off the ground with its northern neighbor. Solana noted with irony that the NAFTA initiative passed less than an hour after Mexico became an APEC member.
He added that Mexico supports the U.S. agenda to push APEC in the direction of becoming a policy-making body, but expects the transition will take several years.
C. Fred Bergsten, an American academic who chairs APEC's Eminent Persons Group, gave a preliminary briefing on the panel's recommendations that the group decide by 1996 on a controversial plan to create a free trade area among members.
APEC members are polarized on the proposal, with the United States and Australia most supportive and less-developed Southeast Asian nations most negative.
Even Japan expressed reservations about the idea, indicating that it will side with the camp advocating a go-slow approach to changing the group's mandate.
"Cooperation should be promoted incrementally and, in principle, on a consensus basis," Japanese Foreign Minister Tsutomu Hata told the meeting of APEC ministers.
On a bilateral issue critical to the United States, Clinton will receive no new bilateral trade promises from Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa when the two leaders meet today, the official added.
"U.S.-Japan relations have matured. No longer does the Japanese prime minister have to bring an omiyage (gift for a trip) with him every time he visits the United States, as if he were a feudal subordinate," the official said.
Meanwhile, resistance to American leadership on trade liberalization on the part of Asian trade partners became increasingly apparent as talks continued among officials and other participants in the conference.
For example, China's minister of foreign trade and economic cooperation, Wu Yi, told her Japanese counterpart in a bilateral meeting that she is worried that America is "moving too fast" on its Pacific community concept.
And China's president Jiang Zemin used a seemingly routine visit to Boeing, America's No. 1 exporting company, to fire a warning shot across Clinton's bow.
Aware of how important foreign contracts--and the jobs and profits that go with them--have become in the U.S. political equation, Jiang addressed 1,000 Boeing workers who had gathered in an assembly building so huge its roof covers 98 acres. On display were not only a 747, but Boeing's new 777, which the company hopes will enjoy strong sales in the world market, including China.
China has bought about 200 planes from Boeing over the last 20 years but recently placed an order with the American firm's chief competitor, Europe's Airbus.