Trade ministers from Pacific Rim countries have said they want to revive the TPP trade pact, as the US reiterated that it will aim for bilateral deals. The plan is seen as a counterweight to Chinese power in the region.
The 11 remaining nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreed on Sunday to keep the deal alive even after US President Donald Trump's withdrawal from it as one of his first acts in office in January.
Trade ministers from the countries remaining in the deal met on the sidelines of a gathering of trade ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum ahead of a November leaders' summit. Efforts to revive the agreement, which covered 40 percent of the global economy before the US left, are being led by Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
After a morning meeting in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay told reporters that the TPP-11, as the remaining nations in the pact have been dubbed, were "committed to finding a way forward to deliver" the pact.
The deal, which was spearheaded by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, required seven years of negotiations to come up with a finalized proposal that was signed in February last year. But it cannot go into force until it has been ratified by six countries with a combined 85 percent of the bloc's total GDP.
Trump withdrew from the deal to fulfill a campaign pledge to save American jobs that he said are endangered by such global deals.
'No US return'
The new US trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, reaffirmed Washington's resolve to stay out of the TPP pact.
"TPP-11 can make their own decisions and the United States makes its decision, but we expect to stay engaged, and I believe at some point there will be a series of bilateral agreements with partners in this part of the world," he said.
The US pullout is seen as jeopardizing the participation of smaller countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia, which signed up to the deal largely to get better access to US markets. The volume of trade between the remaining countries has been reduced to barely a quarter of the level it would have had with continued US involvement.
Counterbalance to China
Members of the deal also see it as a way of countering an increasingly assertive China in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition, the pact envisages labor laws, environmental protections and intellectual property rights that go beyond those in most existing free trade pacts.
The APEC gathering on Sunday failed to agree on the usual joint statement after the United States objected to formulations supporting free trade and opposing protectionism, according to officials.
Instead, the Vietnamese chairman of the talks issued a statement that mentioned both these subjects and also gave a "commitment to promote trade and investment liberalization."
tj/sms (AFP, Reuters)