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Positive outlook for Pacific free trade in the wake of TPP, say officials

Signatories of the TPP trade deal have gathered in Chile to discuss free trade across the Pacific Rim. Officials offered a positive outlook moving forward, with Beijing open to filling the vacuum after Washington's exit.

Representatives from 12 countries of the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), plus China, Colombia and South Korea, gathered in Chile on Monday to discuss the future of free trade across the Pacific Rim.

New Zealand's Trade Minister Todd McClay told Reuters news agency that while he didn't expect any decisions at the talks, "there is life still in the TPP."

"We see this as an opportunity to have a frank round-the-table conversation to gauge where each of the countries are and then to work out how we might consider what next steps there may be, if there are any," New Zealand's Trade Minister Todd McClay told Reuters news agency.

Since US President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of the US from the TPP, signatories have struggled with how to move forward on free trade in the Pacific Rim. But officials expressed a positive outlook moving forward, with Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray saying Washington's exit opens news opportunities.

Australia and other signatories have signaled a positive view at salvaging parts of the agreement and complementing it with the inclusion of China and Indonesia, two economic powers in the region.

China's turn

As the US considers its role in Asia under the Trump administration, China has asserted its readiness to work with its neighbors and other Pacific Rim nations on trade. Beijing was originally excluded from the TPP, considered a hallmark deal of former US President Barack Obama's pivot to Asia.

However, Beijing emphasized that the meeting in Chile isn't solely about the TPP agreement, but includes wider discussions on "integration initiatives."

China has also spearheaded free trade talks at the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), plus Australia, India, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea.

But officials have shied away from any commitments, saying TPP signatories need to orient themselves after the Trump's momentous decision to torpedo the deal.

"If we can get some clarity on what is ahead then that more than justifies the meeting," Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz told reporters in the coastal city of Vina del Mar.

ls/bw (Reuters, AP)