Members pledge that Trans-Pacific Partnership will continue

Nations signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) plan to push ahead with the proposed trade deal after the departure of the United States, announcing their decision at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Vietnam.

The TPP was signed in February 2016 by the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, and Chile; but incoming president Donald Trump pulled the US out during his first week in office last January in favour of bilateral trade deals in support of his “America first” protectionist policy.

In a statement issued at the weekend, ministers from the other signatory nations “agreed on the value of realising the TPP’s benefits, and to that end, they agreed to launch a process to assess options to bring the comprehensive, high-quality agreement into force expeditiously, including how to facilitate membership for the original signatories.”

TPP officials from each country will meet next in Japan in July and further discuss proposals on 10-11 November in Da Nang, Vietnam.

At the just-concluded meeting in Hanoi, the 11 remaining members discussed how to move ahead following the departure of the US, with hopes that Washington might reconsider. However, new US trade representative Robert Lighthizer stressed that there was no way back and he believed there would instead be a series of bilateral agreements with countries in the region.

Lighthizer said that free trade required the tackling of “trade-distorting measures” that had caused a “massive US trade imbalances” in the region. “I look forward to working with our trade partners to expand US export market access and address persistent unfair trade practices,” he added.

Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has said that his country is committed to salvaging the TPP, but faces other challenges such as keeping Vietnam and Malaysia on board. Both have agitated for the deal to be renegotiated, as they signed up to the TPP to gain better access to US markets.

Canada has previously said the TPP cannot legally progress without the US because of the way the trade deal was framed: It was negotiated under the condition that a minimum of six countries with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of 85% of the 12 signatories must ratify it.

As the US accounts for 60% of the combined GDP, the TPP cannot come into effect without either changes being made to the conditions or the US being replaced by another major economy, such as China, as a member.
Turnbull has previously suggested that this possibility could become reality, although China’s government has indicated that it prefers the regional comprehensive economic partnership (RECP), a 16-nation initiative to strengthen trading links between China, India and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

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