New Zealand splits with Malaysia over TPP without US


24 May, 2017

Eleven Asia-Pacific nations, including New Zealand, on Sunday agreed to salvage a massive free trade deal that US President Donald Trump pulled out of days after taking office in January.

Lighthizer, a 69-year-old trade lawyer who has a reputation as a tough negotiator stretching back to the Reagan era, was only confirmed by the Senate as US trade representative on May 11.

PACIFIC RIM trade ministers meeting in Vietnam vowed yesterday to press ahead with the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact after the United States pulled out.

New US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said there was no way back.

Countries including Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore announced they would look at delivering a high-quality deal "expeditiously, including how to facilitate membership for the original signatories".

Japan still regrets the United States withdrawal from a Pacific trade pact but is focused on promoting unity among the 11 remaining countries in order to salvage the agreement, according to Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko.

Both sides of last year's USA presidential race campaigned against the TPP, and Mr Trump in January formally withdrew the United States from the deal.

When asked about the disagreements over the language, Lighthizer said that USA steps to create free and fair trade were being confused with protectionism.

The Australian Government should take the opportunity to move on from the failed TPP and pursue a fairer trade agenda in future trade deals.

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In its current form, the TPP requires USA participation before it can go into effect.

Deborah Elms, executive director of the Asian Trade Centre, said though Pacific Alliance members are trying to widen the appeal of the bloc, it was "big on rhetoric, short on deliverables".

One of the biggest challenges is keeping on board Vietnam and Malaysia, which signed up for the TPP deal and promised to make major reforms largely to get better United States of America market access.

Negotiations for 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership led by China started four years ago, and members are seeking to finalize the agreement by the end of the year.

Trade Minister Todd McClay has welcomed a joint statement from the TPP 11 countries saying it shows unity between the 11 and important next steps for the agreement.

The main focus of RCEP is reducing tariffs, although not as many would be cut to zero as under the TPP agreement.

"Japan doesn't want China to take the lead on global trade", said Kevin Lai, Asia economist for Daiwa Capital Markets in Hong Kong.

"These efforts would address our concern about protectionism, contribute to maintaining open markets", the statement said, "strengthening the rules-based global trading system, increasing world trade, and raising living standards". One of the challenges for TPP minus U.S. is keeping Vietnam and Malaysia on board, states that signed on to the agreement largely because of the prospect of better access to the USA market.

Nearly all the other 20 members of APEC had requested bilateral meetings, USA officials said.

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