Japan, Trans-Pacific Partnership members to pursue trade deal without the U.S.
Japan and other members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreed on Sunday to pursue their trade deal without the United States as the Trump administration’s “America First” policy created tension at a meeting of Asia-Pacific countries.
Turmoil over global trade negotiations was laid bare at a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which failed to agree on its usual joint statement after U.S. opposition to wording on fighting protectionism.
The meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, was the biggest trade gathering since U.S. President Donald Trump upended the old order, arguing that multilateral free-trade agreements were costing American jobs and that he wanted to cut new deals.
On the sidelines of the meeting, the 11 remaining countries of the TPP agreed to explore how they could move ahead without erstwhile leader the United States, partly in the hope that Washington would reconsider leaving.
New U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said there was no way back and he believed there would be a series of bilateral agreements with countries in the region.
A statement from Lighthizer said that free trade required the tackling of “trade-distorting measures” that have led to “massive U.S. trade imbalances” in the region — a possible reference to China’s trade surplus, which was nearly $350 billion in 2016.
“I look forward to working with our trade partners to expand U.S. export market access and address persistent unfair trade practices,” the 69-year-old Reagan-era trade negotiator said.
Although the TPP members kept the trade agreement alive, they fell short of a wholehearted commitment to advance immediately with a deal that members also see as a way to contain an increasingly dominant China.
“We’re focused on how we can move ahead with 11 countries,” New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay said.
One of the biggest challenges is keeping on board Vietnam and Malaysia, which signed up for the deal and promised to make major reforms largely to gain better U.S. market access.
“We will need to ensure that our interests remain protected and the benefits derived from it still outweigh the costs,” Malaysian Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed said.
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.