Trade ministers from 11 countries which agreed to join the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) will meet in Hanoi May 19 – 20, as moves to resurrect the trade deal gather pace. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned in November 2016 that without the world’s largest economy the TPP “has no meaning”. But Japan’s position appears to have changed. On Thursday Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso gave a speech in New York confirming trade ministers from the other TPP countries would meet in May to discuss the deal, which he said offered more than bilateral trade negotiations.
The meeting in Hanoi would not lead to an agreement, but it was possible agreement might be reached by the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam in November, New Zealand Trade Minister McClay said.
Former trade negotiator Charles Finny said New Zealand and Australia had already shown strong support for resurrecting the deal and Japan now appeared to be taking a leading role.
“It is less clear that Malaysia and Vietnam are willing to implement the TPP as negotiated without the United States being part of the agreement,” Finny said.
Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said parts of the TPP could form the basis of a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement.“There are some concessions that the Nafta partners made in connection with the proposed TPP,” Ross said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “There is no reason to throw those away. We would view those as the starting point.”
Ross said Nafta is “at best an obsolete agreement.” He suggested the U.S. will try to toughen so-called rules of origin that govern how much local content needs to be included in products such as cars. The administration also wants to modernize the agreement to cover digital services and improve the accord’s dispute-resolution provisions, he said.
Japan’s chief TPP negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Keiichi Katakami, told reporters that he called for the 11 states to adopt a united front in charting a future course for the TPP.
He also said the participants agreed to continue discussions on activating the trade pact, though he acknowledged there were many divergent views.
“There was a shared view that we 11 countries should move things forward so as not to lose the momentum of the TPP,” Katakami said.
The negotiators’ talks will be followed by a meeting of the countries’ trade ministers in May in Hanoi. Japan hopes to strike a new deal by mid-November, when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum summit will be held in Vietnam.
Can TPP go ahead without the U.S.?
Most countries have been shy about being seen to take the lead in reviving the TPP.
For several members, including Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, a chief concern is for a revived club not to be seen as an affront to China. For Japan, in contrast, that is precisely the point—though it will never admit it in public. Its bigger concern, given its reliance on American security, is not to be seen as anti-Trump.
Here, Mr Abe’s tour of the golf courses at Mar-a-Lago with the American president in February paid dividends. Their joint statement afterwards referred to Japan “continuing to advance regional progress on the basis of existing initiatives”. In other words, Mr Trump gave his blessing for Japan to try to keep TPP going. The Hanoi gathering is a Japanese initiative. Most other members, once reassured that a revived TPP will be structured as neither anti-China nor anti-Trump, seem ready to follow.
Japan pitches idea of five-nation TPP: sources, Japan Times
Can the TPP go ahead without the U.S.?, The Economist, May 4, 2017