Trans-Pacific Partnership countries agree to continue pact without Donald Trump’s US
Eleven nations to press on with rebranded free-trade deal after reaching agreement in talks at Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam
The 11 remaining members of the defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Saturday reached an agreement to proceed with the trade pact under a new name and without the United States, as China, which is not involved, said the revised arrangement would not affect initiatives backed by Beijing.
Vietnam’s Industry and Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh said on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Da Nang that following three days of negotiations, ministers from the countries involved had decided to call the new regional free-trade arrangement the “Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership”.
“We have reached agreement on a number of fundamentals,” he said.
Zhang Jun, director general of the Department of International Economic Affairs at China’s foreign ministry, responded to the news by saying it would not affect the development of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
“Even though the negotiation of RCEP is difficult, it is making progress,” he said.
Tran said the spirit of the former TPP agreement would endure, maintaining its high standards regarding trade practices, but the members would suspend certain clauses in light of the new situation.
The countries have yet to reach consensus in four areas so a date for signing the new deal has yet to be finalised.
Tran said: “The ministers will have negotiations to discuss the remaining technical issues that have not been agreed yet as well as the legislative matters needed to put the agreement into implementation.”
Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi hailed the Da Nang talks as a “success”, saying they had managed to limit the number of suspended items to 20.
At one point the negotiations in Da Nang appeared to be on the brink of failure after Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau missed a TPP leaders’ meeting on Friday.
Canada has the second largest economy, after Japan’s, of the remaining TPP countries.
The Canadians changed their minds on one area “at the last minute”, according to Motegi, threatening to scupper the deal before Trudeau finally agreed to let it go ahead.
Kyodo news reported that a negotiation source had said Canada was apparently dissatisfied about the rules on intellectual property as well as those on trade in the auto industry. Ottawa was also dissatisfied with the way Japan had chaired the TPP meetings, the source said.
China had been sceptical about the TPP, which had been spearheaded by Barack Obama’s administration, believing it was Washington’s attempt to contain Beijing.
Beijing instead attempted to push forward the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, which encompasses 21 Pacific Rim countries, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership as a counterbalance to the TPP.
Zhang Yansheng, a senior researcher with the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, said the TPP was “exclusive and unfair” towards other countries.
However, he suggested there was no need to be overly concerned about the possible impact of the 11-member TPP given the size of China’s economy and scale of its influence.
Wei Jianguo, a former commerce vice-minister, said the economic scale of the deal was much smaller without the US and would have little impact on China. He said it remained to be seen whether sensitive areas, such as access to the auto market in Japan, would be implemented.
“There are many multinational or bilateral trade pacts in the world. China hopes it is open, inclusive and equal,” he said.
The US-led TPP agreement was signed in February 2016. The free-trade agreement also set high standards in non-trade issues such as the environment and labour rights.
The 12 signatories were the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, who are also all Apec members.
But the US pulled out in January days after Donald Trump was sworn in as president because he believed it would harm American interests.
“When the United States, the country with great economic weight, the greatest of all, withdrew from the TPP, it created difficulties for other countries in maintaining the TPP with the same standards and finding a new balance in interests and responsibilities,” Tran said.
Trump reiterated his markedly different stance on trade before the 21-member Apec summit convened late Friday with a gala banquet.
“We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of any more,” he told an Apec business conference.
The name change reflected the fact that the US had withdrawn, but the remaining members still hoped the US would return, Motegi said.
He said the 11 countries shared the view that the pact would prove beneficial, so they completed a series of “unprecedented high frequency” meetings and reached core consensus in only four months without anyone dropping out.
“All the 11 countries are on board and this would send out a very strong positive message to the United States and other Asia-Pacific countries in the region,” he added.
Additional reporting by Wendy Wu