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Focus on China-led trade deal ramps up

AAP logoAAP 19/11/2016 By Lisa Martin

As momentum shifts to a China-led regional free trade deal and hopes fade for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Malcolm Turnbull insists the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good.

Mr Turnbull joined world leaders to discuss the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the controversial 12-country Pacific deal at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in Lima, Peru.

"Free trade is a long game," Mr Turnbull told reporters in Lima on Saturday Peru time.

Donald Trump intends to withdraw America from the TPP which he has characterised as a job-killing "disaster" and a "rape of our country".

But Mr Turnbull is optimistic the US president-elect might have a change of heart.

"It may well be over time that the TPP is embraced by the United States... perhaps in the same form it is today, perhaps in a different form," he said.

China is seeking to capitalise on the US trade policy disarray, arguing that its proposed RCEP, which excludes the US, might now provide the only pathway towards an eventual Asia Pacific free trade area.

APEC is considering a study of the concept this year but it could be many years off before negotiations actually start.

"China will not shut its door to the outside world but open more," Chinese President Xi Xinping said in a keynote address at APEC.

Washington is critical of the Beijing-backed regional deal saying it will have lower standards and fewer protections.

Australia is a party in both deals but Mr Turnbull does not share the same concerns.

He said RCEP is a more traditional free trade deal, focused on reducing tariffs on goods and services, and admits it is not as far reaching and ambitious as the TPP.

"You can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," Mr Turnbull said.

"From Australia's point of view the more markets and access we can get for our exports the better."

The prime minister also took aim at Opposition Leader Bill Shorten for sympathising with trade protectionism.

"He is being wooed by the siren song on populism, he thinks he's picked up something from the American election and he can tap into," Mr Turnbull said.

"But it is the road to ruin for Australia."

The prime minister has also had bilateral talks with his Malaysian counterpart.

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