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Trans-Pacific trade deal members meet at APEC summit

Trade ministers from members of an Asian free trade pact including Australia have affirmed a desire for more countries to join the bloc if they can meet its standards.

The officials from the 12 Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership countries met in San Francisco on Wednesday just after trade negotiations for the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework initiative ground to a halt without agreement.

The lack of an IPEF trade deal is a setback for the Biden administration.

It had aimed to showcase the initiative during this week's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco as a symbol of its economic re-engagement in Asia, providing countries a counterweight to China's growing clout in the region.

The CPTPP is the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, from which former President Donald Trump withdrew as soon as he took office in 2017.

The CPTPP meeting on the sidelines of APEC was the first ministerial to include new member Britain, which signed up to the bloc in July.

APEC delegates
San Francisco is hosting the 2023 APEC Summit

In a joint statement posted on the UK trade ministry website, the ministers "reaffirmed that the CPTPP is open to accession requests by economies ready to meet the high standards of the agreement and have a demonstrated pattern of complying with trade commitments".

The statement made no mention of China's application to join the bloc, nor applications by Taiwan, Costa Rica and Ecuador.

It said accession decisions are dependent upon consensus and since July, they have been "gathering information on whether aspirant economies can meet CPTPP's high standards".

Information collected to date "will not prejudge any process, outcome, decision and/or actions to be taken by CPTPP members," it said, adding that the bloc would apply lessons learned in the UK accession.

The current CPTPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. Most overlap with both APEC and the IPEF initiative.

Meanwhile, a demonstrator draped in a Free Tibet flag climbed a flagpole in front of the hotel where Chinese President Xi Jinping was due to meet with US CEOs on Wednesday evening, capping a day of demonstrations against, and for, the Chinese leader.

Demonstrators march to protest President Xi Jinping
Demonstrators wound their way around the convention precinct which is hosting the APEC summit.

Protesters of the Israel-Hamas war, critics of the global response to climate change and other causes all turned out for the APEC forum.

The day began with a couple of hundred obstructing San Francisco streets and entrances to the convention centre area.

But the focus shifted more towards anti- and pro-China during the day.

Hundreds of critics of Xi marched through downtown around noon, a major protest against the leader.

Headed by a police escort, the peaceful group, which stretched multiple city blocks, blocked one of the main downtown thoroughfares.

Still, local television also showed crowds welcoming Xi, waving huge Chinese and American flags, as well as posters of the two flags together.