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PM champions free trade but dodges Trump

AAP logoAAP 18/11/2016 Lisa Martin

Malcolm Turnbull is walking a tightrope at APEC, championing the cause of free trade while refraining from publicly chastising US president-elect Donald Trump's protectionist mantra.

Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull © Provided by AAP Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

The prime minister jetted into Lima on Friday morning (Peru time).

The implications of Mr Trump's election victory and fading prospects of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership deal are expected to dominate the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) talkfest over coming days.

Mr Turnbull continued to trumpet the merits of the doomed trade deal and economic integration in general, saying protectionism is the way to poverty.

"We have seen this film before, the world did this in the 1930s after the Great Depression and made it much worse," he told reporters.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said a huge opportunity will be missed if America is not part of the story.

"It's not only missing out on a positive but risking a very big negative in terms of destabilising the global trading and strategic system," he told reporters.

Mr Turnbull was reluctant to directly address Mr Trump's anti-free trade stance.

But he took a swing at his Australian political opponent accusing Bill Shorten of chasing a short-term "cynical sugar hit" by sympathising with trade protectionism.

"He is putting Australia's jobs and our economic prosperity at risk," Mr Turnbull said.

"My job is to talk about what is in the interests of Australians, I'll leave the Americans to manage their own affairs."

He confirmed there had been discussions of an early meeting between him and Mr Trump before the inauguration in January however their schedules had not been able to accommodate one so far.

Mr Turnbull waxed lyrical about his fondness for innovation at a special panel in the afternoon, arguing it was misguided to blame job losses on free trade when automation was the real culprit.

"Those who resist innovation are not defending themselves against the consequences to technological change, they are making themselves vastly more vulnerable," Mr Turnbull said.

In the evening, Mr Turnbull engaged in a spot of surfing diplomacy and met Peru's former world champion Sofia Mulanovich.

Australia has provided two scholarships worth a total of $20,000 to Mulanovich's academy to take two young Peruvian surfers to Australia for a coaching program.

"For surfers (Australia) is like a fantasy," she told reporters.

The prime minister is expected to have bilateral discussions with his Malaysian counterpart on Saturday, amid speculation a refugee resettlement deal could be close to being finalised.

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