6 Oct 2013

Kerry tells APEC shutdown is momentary episode

5:39 am on 6 October 2013

The United States Secretary of State has said at the APEC meeting in Bali that the shutdown of the US government is a "momentary episode" and does not change its commitment to Asia or elsewhere.

John Kerry is standing in for President Barack Obama who cancelled his Asia tour and attendance at the APEC summit because of the stalemate in Washington over the government shutdown.

Mr Kerry says the US is not neglecting its responsibilities, including those in Asia. "I do want to make clear, none of what is happening in Washington diminishes one iota our committment to our partners in Asia, including our efforts to promote trade and investment throughout the region."

Mr Obama's absence from APEC had thrown into doubt the deadline for finalising the Pacific-wide Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. At the meeting, Mr Obama was to have met the leaders of the other 11 nations involved in the TPP to try to secure an agreement.

Radio New Zealand's economics correspondent, who is at the APEC meeting, says TPP negotiations are understood to be moving slowly on several sensitive issues, including intellectual property and access for agricultural products.

APEC Secretariat executive director Alan Bollard does not expect Mr Obama's absence to slow progress but TPP opponents say the US budget stand-off has derailed any chance of an agreement being reached by the end of the year.

A critic of the TPP, Jane Kelsey, said Mr Obama is the only person who could bring everyone together on issues where there is major disharmony, and it will now be impossible to reach a deal by the end of the year.

A senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies, Lance Beath, said the talks may help clarify negotiating positions, but won't be as effective without Mr Obama. "So far as commitments are concerned, I don't think any government sitting down around the table in Bali can actually make a commitment on behalf of their legislatures," he said.

The US government closed non-essential operations on Tuesday after Congress failed to agree a new budget.