Pacific ministers commit to move ahead with pact without US

Japan and other members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreed on Sunday to pursue their proposed trade deal without the United States, during a meeting of Asia-Pacific countries in which the Trump administration's "America First" policy created tension.

The focus is on whether the 16 nations can make concessions, with some countries seeking high-standard trade and investment rules while others are looking for swift implementation rather than the quality of the deal, Japan's trade minister Hiroshige Seko said on Sunday.

He said the door remains open to the US, even after President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in January, saying he prefers bilateral free trade deals. They will now ask their senior trade officials to work out how to take the pact forward and report back by the APEC leaders' summit in November in Vietnam.

Frustrations with the United States' exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership may have exacerbated tensions between the United States and her Asian counterparts.

"It's because there is a consensus that the original TPP responded to a situation that all of us were willing to comply [with] from the beginning", she said.

The statement said: "These efforts would address our concern about protectionism, contribute to maintaining open markets, strengthening the rules-based worldwide trading system, increasing world trade and raising living standards".

One of the biggest challenges is keeping on board Vietnam and Malaysia, which signed up for the TPP deal and promised to make major reforms largely to get better United States of America market access.

This comes after Trump signed an executive order in January withdrawing the USA from the trade agreement.

Mr Fred Burke, managing partner of Baker McKenzie Vietnam, told The Straits Times that the announcement by the so-called "TPP-11" that they will explore going ahead with the pact without the USA does not necessarily preclude progress on RCEP.

Australian Trade Minister Steve Ciobo was in Hanoi for the meeting and supports moving the deal forward.

Explaining US opposition to using the word protectionism, Lighthizer said the term was being confused with the steps that were really needed to promote free trade. Beijing is presenting itself as the champion of free trade against the growing protectionism emanating from the US.

According to Ishihara, 11 countries agreed at the meeting that they won't change a section of the TPP about eliminating and reducing tariffs that they have already agreed to.

One of Trump's first acts as president was to ditch the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Members would have greater flexibility in applying the agreement than is the case for TPP.

Both Ciobo and Aranda said they would welcome the US back into the fold.

"No agreement other than TPP goes so far into digital trade, intellectual property and improving customs procedures", Mr Seko said.

Members of the TPP trade deal agreed on the sidelines of the meeting to pursue it despite Trump's decision to abandon the agreement in favour of bilateral arrangements with Asian countries.

  • Zachary Reyes