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China joins US trade discussion

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk will meet tomorrow with his counterparts from the United States' top two trading partners, Canada and China, as well as Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin.

The back-to-back talks occur as a number of foreign officials appeared in Washington this weekend for the annual spring meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Kirk, who has been in his job for a month, is under pressure from Congress to make progress in reducing the large and persistent US trade deficit with China, which hit a record US$266.3 billion in 2008.

His meeting with Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming will precede US and China companies signing contracts tomorrow that the US Chamber of Commerce says are worth billions of dollars to American companies.

Kirk will meet with Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day first tomorrow, whose country accounted for 17.6 percent of total US trade last year, or US$597 billion. That was ahead of China's 12 percent, or US$409.2 billion.

Earlier this week, Kirk said he believed the US could accomplish President Barack Obama's goal of updating the North American Free Trade Agreement without formally reopening negotiations on the pact.

Both Canada and Mexico welcomed that statement, after Obama's often harsh criticism of the 15-year-old agreement during last year's campaign.

Pakistan has pressed in the past for a free trade agreement with the United States, but Kirk said the Obama administration would only pursue new trade deals with bigger countries.


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