Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that roadblocks to implementation of the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could shift attention to another envisioned regional free trade pact that includes China, but not the United States.
“There’s no doubt that there would be a pivot to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) if the TPP doesn’t go forward,” Abe told an Upper House committee deliberating on the ratification of the TPP after a related bill passed the Lower House last week.
“RCEP doesn’t include the United States, leaving China the economy with the largest gross domestic product,” Abe said of the regional market opening pact that has been under negotiation since 2013.
Abe also questioned whether the RCEP would be able to restrain state-run enterprises or protect intellectual property rights as thoroughly as the TPP promises to do.
The RCEP comprises Japan, China and 12 other Asian countries plus Australia and New Zealand.
The TPP, meanwhile, has been signed by the United States and 11 other economies. Among them is Japan and six other RCEP participants, but not China.
Abe is pushing not only for Japan to ratify it, but also for the United States to remain on board. The pact cannot come into force without U.S. ratification, but its future looks bleak following the victory in last week’s U.S. presidential election by TPP opponent Donald Trump.
A senior White House official said last week that U.S. President Barack Obama will no longer press Congress to ratify the treaty during his term. Trump has said he will pull the United States out of the pact as soon as he takes office on Jan. 20.
Abe may make an appeal to Trump about the TPP when the two meet in New York on Thursday. The Japanese leader has said he will explain to Trump his “thoughts on the importance of free trade.”
After the talks with Trump, Abe is set to participate in a summit of TPP member countries on the fringes of a regional gathering in Peru. The prime minister said he will seek the leaders’ agreement that they will each continue to push forward with the ratification process.
“We will communicate the goals and meaning of the TPP to the world, (including) the United States … we will change the current trend of protectionism,” Abe said.