Thu, May 18, 2017 - Page 10 News List

TPP may be revived at APEC meeting

WATCHING WORDING:APEC official Alan Bollard said focus would be on whether TPP ministers say they are definitely going to push ahead or need more discussions

Reuters, HANOI

A motorbike rider waits in front of a sign promoting the APEC summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Japan and other remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) this weekend are to decide how to revive the trade agreement abandoned by US President Donald Trump.

Their trade ministers are to talk on the sidelines of an APEC meeting in Hanoi, where US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is also due to give more detail of Washington’s trade plans.

Support has built among the so-called TPP-11 to push ahead without the US, although trade within the smaller block is only a quarter of that between the original 12 members, according to the most recent data.

Moving ahead could help the bargaining position of the members in bilateral talks with the US.

It could also undermine the increasing regional dominance of China, which is not part of the TPP and backs a bigger, but less comprehensive free-trade agreement for Asia.

“We’ll be looking to see whether TPP ministers say they are definitely pushing ahead by simply by changing the articles, or whether they come out and say they’re positive about the prospects, but need more discussions,” APEC Secretariat executive director Alan Bollard said.

After initially appearing reluctant to move ahead without the US, Japan is at the forefront of the push along with New Zealand.

Japan has emphasized that it would ultimately like to bring the US back in.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday said that Tokyo wanted to “steer the debate toward a clear direction” in Hanoi.

The backing of some other members was less clear.

Vietnam would have been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the original TPP because of lower tariffs and more investment from the US.

Malaysia is in a similar position and an official there voiced hope of an eventual return to the TPP.

Pushing TPP forward could help Japan’s position in negotiating a bilateral deal with the US, said Nguyen Xuan Thanh of the Harvard Kennedy School.

The same would apply for Vietnam, he said.

“It’s part of the game,” he told reporters. “You don’t want to be seen as desperate for bilateral deals.”

Mexico and Canada, with which Trump seeks to renegotiate their North American Free Trade Agreement, are also in APEC.

Trump’s “America First” trade strategy relies on better enforcement of US trade laws and existing trade agreements, while trying to negotiate some to the advantage of the US.

Lighthizer has said he will make trade “freer and fairer” to the benefit of US workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses.

The final statement from APEC trade ministers will be scrutinized for any change to language which last year emphasized “free and open” trade and investment.

It made no mention of the word “fair.”

The renewed push on the TPP has somewhat overshadowed progress towards the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), championed by Beijing, and which members hope to sign by the end of the year.

The agreement includes both China and India, but not the US. It is largely about reducing tariffs and much less comprehensive than TPP: It has limited protections for intellectual property, labor rights or the environment.

China would not be particularly happy to see TPP taking on new life, even without the US, said Tu Xinquan (屠新泉), a trade expert at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics.

“I also don’t think China would or should take an action specifically responding to it,” he said.

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