YOKOHAMA, (AP) — Appealing for broader access to fast-growing markets in Asia, President Barack Obama says the United States is in the Pacific region to stay and that both sides will benefit from stronger trade relationships.
On a mission to help create jobs at home, Obama noted that while U.S. exports to the region have increased by more than 60 percent in the last five years, competition has cut into the U.S. share of trade here.
“We want to change that,” Obama declared in a speech Saturday at a regional economic summit.
The president hopes to double U.S. exports within five years and views selling more goods to Asians as one way to help meet that goal while simultaneously creating and sustaining jobs for Americans. India, the first of four countries Obama visited this week and a booming nation to boot, has a population of more than 1 billion people.
At the same time, Obama said healthy competition needn’t rupture relationships between and among nations.
“There’s no need to view trade, commerce or economic growth as zero-sum games,” he said. “If we work together, and act together, strengthening our economic ties can be a win-win for all of our nations.”
Obama was blunt about his reason for touring Asia this week.
“For America, this is a job strategy,” he said, before rattling off numbers showing that every $1 billion in exports supports 5,000 jobs at home. In turn, he said the flood of U.S. goods to Asia-Pacific nations will give those consumers, many of whom are enjoying higher standards of living, more options to choose from when they go shopping.
“We are invested in your success because it’s connected to our own. We have a stake in your future because our destiny is shared,” Obama said. “It was a Japanese poet who said, ‘Individually, we are one drop. ‘Together, we are an ocean.’ So it must be with the billions of people whose lives are linked in the swirling currents of the Pacific.”
Obama’s speech to a gathering of business leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum came on his first full day in Japan and followed a divisive Group of 20 nations economic summit in Seoul, South Korea.
There, Obama failed to win backing from other world leaders for a get-tough policy toward China over on its currency stance and he missed his goal of reaching agreement with longtime ally South Korea on a new free-trade pact.
But Obama said he was pleased that the U.S. led its G-20 summit partners to agree to develop a monitoring system to help countries avoid the conditions and practices that led to the world’s economic meltdown two years ago.
Obama will attend more APEC meetings on Sunday, the 10th and final day of a four-country journey that has taken him from the Indian cities of Mumbai and New Delhi, to Jakarta, Indonesia, where he lived for several years as a boy, to Seoul and finally Japan. It is his longest trip abroad as president.
Obama also planned a one-on-one breakfast meeting Sunday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. One expected topic of discussion is a stalled nuclear arms reduction between the countries. Obama also was stopping at the Great Buddha statue, which he visited as a child, before boarding Air Force One for the long flight to Washington.
Obama started the Asia tour immediately after suffering a political battering in elections at home, as Republicans recaptured the House and significantly cut the Democratic majority in the Senate.
The president adopted a defensive tone before leaving Seoul on Friday, taking exception to questioning about whether his personal leadership, U.S. influence on the world stage or both had suffered as a result of the election outcome.
He’d also gotten flak from within the G-20 about the Federal Reserve’s decision to buy $600 billion worth of Treasury bonds. Some critics compared the move to the type of currency manipulation Washington has accused China of pursuing.
“No,” was Obama’s answer at a news conference when asked if the elections had diminished his clout abroad. “People are eager to work with America, eager to engage with America.”
Obama said the meetings had led to improved relations with presidents and prime ministers in ways not apparent from the superficial photo ops that are common at such gatherings.
“It’s not just a function of personal charm,” he said. “It’s a function of countries’ interests and seeing if we can work through to align them.”
The mission of creating jobs in the U.S. is at the heart of Obama’s trip.
Job growth has been modest at best after a crippling recession in which the economy shed millions of jobs, and the unemployment rate has been at 9.5 percent or higher for the last 15 months.
Obama refused to say whether joblessness would still be in that range when he seeks re-election in 2012, but he pushed back when asked if people would see noticeable job growth during his four-year term.
“We’ve grown the economy by a million jobs over the last year,” Obama said. “So that’s pretty noticeable. I think those million people who’ve been hired notice those paychecks.”