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Asia advances post-TPP free trade talks

February 27, 2017

Amid growing protectionism across the globe, an ASEAN initiative has brought together 16 nations to talk free trade. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the TPP has left a vaccum in the region.

RCEP conference in Kobe, Japan
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Negotiators representing 16 nations of the Asia Pacific region gathered in the Japanese city of Kobe on Monday to discuss a possible free trade agreement in the wake of the US' withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

While the China was not included in TPP, Beijing leads the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) along with Australia, India, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea.

The RCEP's 17th round aims to "push negotiations forward broadly in the fields of goods, services, investment, intellectual property, rules of origin, competition and electronic commerce," a Japanese trade official told AFP news agency.

"It is important to strike a quality deal in RCEP at a time when protectionism is emerging around the world," the official added.

Despite years of negotiations culminating in the TPP under former US President Barack Obama's administration, President Donald Trump issued an executive order in January withdrawing the US from the free trade agreement.

Trump has vowed to renegotiate most, if not all, US trade agreements, especially multilateral agreements. The US president has said he prefers bilateral agreements.

'Regional ties'

Although TPP nations make up for roughly 40 percent of global GDP, the RCEP framework would bring together 16 countries comprising approximately 30 percent of the world's GDP. The RCEP would account for 40 percent of international trade.

In January, the "China Daily" - an English-language newspaper linked to China's Communist Party - wrote that Asia Pacific nations should look towards their neighbors for closer trade ties after Trump withdrew the US from the TPP.

"US officials once touted the TPP as the best and largest multilateral trade deal ever, even though it was to a great extent a political device aimed at curtailing China's influence in the Asia-Pacific," the Chinese daily said.

"Now that protectionism is on the rise in the US, Asian nations can no longer expect to develop their economy by providing ever increasing exports to the US markets. It is time for Asian economies to start relying more on the regional and neighborly ties," it added.

Public health at risk?

The China-led negotiations come at a moment of global uncertainty due to Trump's remarks concerning world order, international trade and foreign affairs. In contrast, Beijing has doubled-down on the structures that form the rules of international relations.

However, others remain skeptical of the agreement. The non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) urged RCEP nations to renegotiate provisions concerning the intellectual property of medicines.

MSF "is concerned that demands for intellectual property provisions in the intellectual property and investment chapters could potentially challenge a government's capacity to initiate and execute policies to protect public health and ensure affordable access to medicines for all," the organization said in a statement.

ls/kms (AP, AFP)