Pacific Rim ministers meet in Hanoi, seek to revive TPP

Elias Hubbard
May 23, 2017

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, center right, shakes hands with Chinese Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan, center left, as Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, top left, U.S Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, top right, and Peruvian Trade Minister Eduardo Ferreyros, bottom right, look on after a group photo at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Trade ministerial meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, May 20, 2017. "In this first meeting the first thing is to get some clarity on protectionism-this America First and how it's going to affect us in this part of the world", he said.

China, putting itself forward as a global free trade champion in light of the USA shift, is pushing an agreement to encompass the vast majority of Asian economies. During the election campaign, President Donald Trump called the deal with Mexico and Canada a "disaster" that cost millions of U.S.jobs and hollowed out the manufacturing sector. A few weeks ago, he was weighing whether to pull out of the deal entirely.

The word "fair" has increasingly entered the US trade lexicon alongside its old mantra of "free" as Trump seeks to do more to enforce or renegotiate trade agreements in the name of protecting American jobs - particularly in manufacturing.

In a statement from the ministry, Mr Lim said: "It is important that we keep up momentum.' His remarks come after the ministers and vice-ministers of 11 Asia-Pacific nations, including Singapore, agreed to launch a process to assess options to bring the agreement into force, even after the United States" pullout.

Explaining U.S. opposition to using the word protectionism, Lighthizer said the term was being confused with the steps that were really needed to promote free trade.

"One of the reasons we chose to be part of the TPP was the potential access to the American market", he said. The U.S.is Malaysia's third-largest trading partner and there is no direct trade deal between the countries.

The volume of trade between the remaining countries is barely a quarter of the level it would have been if the United States had remained in the TPP. "Some countries are still very gung-ho".

"One of the reasons we made a decision to be part of the TPP was the potential access to the American market and if that does not happen one of the major motivations to be part of the TPP will be removed". The remaining eleven countries will have to revise the rules for any deal to go ahead. "In the event it's TPP minus one, in our view it can not be the one that was agreed in Auckland in February 2016", he said.

Malaysian trade minister Mustapa Mohamed told Reuters there was optimism the United States would return to TPP one day, because Trump had shown readiness to shift his position on other matters, such as softening his stance towards China.

A key part of Bill English's Asia trip last week was talks with Japan aimed at keeping the trade deal alive.

"A Japanese think tank has done some work on all the countries and they've said there'll still be a 3.4 percent increase to New Zealand's GDP as a result of the TPP of 11, and it's worth some $2.5 billion to our economy after 10 years".

"Towards the end we get into more hard matters", Mustapa said. Exports rose 24.1 percent in March, outpacing the 20 percent median estimate of economists polled by Bloomberg News. "This year there will be a recovery in trade with the U.S".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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