MINISTERS from 11 nations across the Asia-Pacific region have agreed in principle to proceed with the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement despite the withdrawal of the United States under President Donald Trump.
Asked by reporters about the results of a meeting of TPP ministers, Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said “(they) agree in principle”, adding that the ministers had finalised “a list of suspensions” – clauses that would be suspended to avoid renegotiating the whole agreement.
Talks on the TPP, ditched by Trump in one of his first acts in office, have been held on the sidelines of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in the Vietnamese resort of Danang.
Clear agreement on proceeding without the US would be a boost for the principle of multilateral free trade pacts over the bilateral deal-making that Trump favours, but some countries have appeared reluctant to hurry.
“We have kept trying to maintain the TPP as a quality trade accord, while seeking similarities to make sure it benefits all members,” Vietnamese Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh told local newspaper Tuoi Tre.
Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, also said that a deal had been reached and Australian trade minister Steven Ciobo said the meeting was “very good”, other countries made no comment about the closed-door meetings.
Remaining possible signatories for the TPP include Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore. It was initially considered a potential counterbalance to the regional economic clout of China.
The TPP aims to eliminate tariffs on industrial and farm products across a bloc whose trade totalled $356 billion last year. It also has provisions for protecting everything from labour rights to the environment to intellectual property – one of the main sticking points.
Canada, whose economy is the second biggest among the TPP-11 after Japan, said on Wednesday it would not be rushed into a revived TPP deal. Like Mexico, its position is further complicated by renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the Trump administration.
Options discussed by the TPP countries have included suspending some provisions of the original agreement to avoid having to renegotiate it and potentially to entice the United States back in the long term.
Trump and other APEC leaders, including President Xi Jinping of China and Russian President Vladimir Putin, will meet on Friday in Danang.
APEC trade and foreign ministers separately ended a meeting on Thursday with a “very good outcome”, despite differing views on trade and protectionism, Vietnamese Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh said.
Ministerial talks on a communique for the APEC leaders were extended into a second day on Thursday in the face of U.S. demands for changes to the language used concerning issues such as free trade and protectionism, officials at the talks said.
Additional reporting from Reuters.