LIMA – Backing their diplomats and trade chiefs, the leaders of the 12 states participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreed Saturday to step up efforts to implement the free trade agreement.
In a meeting in Lima, the leaders affirmed their intention to advance ratification and other secretive domestic procedures so the U.S.-led TPP can enter into force, a senior Japanese official said.
Although it is unclear whether the free trade pact will survive the new administration being put together by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, the leaders did not discuss the possibility of activating it without the United States, the official said.
U.S. President Barack Obama was quoted by the official as saying his administration will continue efforts to win domestic support for the pact, which Trump has vowed to scrap once he takes office in January.
Obama “discussed his support of high-standard trade agreements like TPP, which level the playing field for American workers and advance our interests and values in the economically dynamic and strategically significant Asia-Pacific region,” the White House said.
Obama “urged his fellow leaders to continue to work together to advance TPP,” it said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “If we stop our domestic procedures, the TPP will be completely dead. It will be impossible for us to curb protectionism,” according to the Japanese official.
It is not immediately known whether the leaders’ call to adopt the TPP will prompt Trump to reverse the harsh anti-globalism stance he spouted during his divisive presidential campaign.
During the hourlong meeting, the TPP leaders underscored the economic and strategic significance of the pact in ensuring the stability and prosperity of the region, the official said.
During his presidential campaign, the New York billionaire slammed the TPP as a job-killing “disaster,” tapping widespread dissatisfaction with trade, globalization and job losses in America’s manufacturing industry.
His victory in the Nov. 8 election leaves little chance of the TPP being voted on by Congress before Obama leaves office in January.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has dashed any hope that the TPP will come up for a vote before the president’s departure, saying any decision on it and other trade agreements would be up to Trump.
Obama has championed the TPP, vowing to write high-standard trade rules for the fast-growing region as the centerpiece of his so-called strategic rebalancing to Asia to counter the rise of China, a non-TPP party.
Mexico’s economy minister had suggested prior to Saturday’s meeting that the other TPP signatories could move forward on the agreement without the United States.
But New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was among those stressing the importance of keeping Washington on board. According to New Zealand media reports, Key joked at an APEC-related event Saturday about renaming the pact the “Trump Pacific Partnership” to win the U.S. president-elect’s support.
Key said he thinks Trump may yet be persuaded to accept the deal if the other parties are prepared to “be a little bit creative” in their efforts, the reports said.
The leaders met on the sidelines of the two-day summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, where the 21 member economies underscored the importance of free trade and open markets as the world faces rising protectionism and stagnant growth in trade. The forum ends on Sunday.
APEC groups the TPP members — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam — plus China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.
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