WASHINGTON — The Obama administration reiterated on Wednesday that APEC is a cornerstone of the president’s economic goals.

At a White House press briefing on President Barack Obama’s trip to Honolulu, Indonesia and Australia, a presidential spokesman was questioned repeatedly about the value of the trip at a time when jobs are seen as the nation’s most pressing concern.

“Our ability to export is critical, again, to our job creation and growth agenda,” said White House spokesman Ben Rhodes. “The vast majority of the export potential in the world is in the Asia-Pacific. So when the president sets a goal of doubling U.S. exports to support hundreds of thousands of American jobs, that’s going very much going to be rooted in our ability to market to the Asia-Pacific to achieve export deals.”

Rhodes called the Asia-Pacific region the “center of gravity” for the United States in the 21st century.

Despite unease on Capitol Hill about the Nov. 23 deadline for the congressional super committee to reach budget solutions that evaded Congress and the White House over the summer, Rhodes said the timing of the president’s APEC trip is in the nation’s best economic interest.

“The president’s No. 1 priority is job creation, and our efforts to create American jobs are tied very directly to our engagement in the Asia-Pacific,” said Rhodes, who called the region’s economical potential the “overwhelming” reason why the White House is focused on it.

“I think when the American people see the president traveling in Asia-Pacific, they will see him advocating for U.S. jobs and U.S. businesses,” Rhodes said. “He will be trying to open new markets. He will be trying to achieve new export initiatives.”

After spending the weekend in Hawaii, Obama will continue on to Australia and Indonesia, where he’ll participate in the East Asia Summit. The trip comes at a time when the United States is “making a larger pivot in our foreign policy,” Rhodes said.

“For a very long time, Asia was a region that Americans associated with outsourcing, and with cheap labor and cheaper products,” Rhodes said. “What we’ve seen over the course of the last several years is — because of the enormous economic growth in Asia — that is changing. As these countries develop, and as they develop very large middle classes, there are going to be markets for our goods.”

Rhodes also emphasized Obama’s intent to foster a multilateral trade agreement through the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would hold countries to higher standards that protect U.S. interests.

“The U.S. is a Pacific power, and we have been a Pacific power since World War II,” Rhodes said. “Our ability to work cooperatively and to lead in the Asia-Pacific is going to be central to our ability to remain a world leader.”

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