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Japan pitches idea of five-nation TPP: sources

Kyodo

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An idea has emerged that the Trans-Pacific Partnership can take effect among at least five nations including Japan, Australia and New Zealand, instead of 12, sources involved in the negotiations said.

The idea cropped up as the 11 states involved discussed what to do with the aborted free trade pact in the wake of the United States’ withdrawal earlier this year under President Donald Trump, the sources told Kyodo News on Wednesday.

At the just-finished two-day meeting of top negotiators from the 11 parties, Tokyo argued for making the TPP take effect without the United States at an early date by tweaking the original agreement, they said.

But some countries, including Vietnam and Malaysia, which had hoped to boost exports to the United States, are believed to have expressed reluctance to put the TPP into force without Washington.

Chile and Peru have shown no keen interest in a non-U.S. TPP, the sources said. Canada and Mexico are noncommittal as they brace for renegotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States, they said.

If the 11 countries fail to bridge their differences, the five-or-more solution could gain traction with free trade-oriented Singapore and Brunei as potential partners.

Tokyo had also been reluctant to activate the TPP without Washington amid concern that it is unlikely to provide a tailwind for Japanese exporters, including its all-important automakers, without the biggest market in the grouping.

But with free trade perceived to be under threat with the rise of protectionism since the launch of the Trump administration, calls have been growing in the government for Tokyo’s leadership to keep up the momentum for free trade.

Japan’s chief negotiator, Keiichi Katakami, told reporters after the meeting that he called for the 11 states to adopt a united front in charting a future course for the TPP.

He also said the participants agreed to continue discussions on activating the trade pact, though he acknowledged there were many divergent views.

“There was a shared view that we 11 countries should move things forward so as not to lose the momentum of the TPP,” Katakami said.

The negotiators’ talks will be followed by a meeting of the countries’ trade ministers later this month. Japan hopes to strike a new deal by mid-November, when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit will be held in Vietnam.

The TPP was signed in February 2016 by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam — covering around 40 percent of the global economy.

Under current rules, the TPP’s implementation requires ratification by nations accounting for 85 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the 12 countries. The deal was therefore effectively dead following the withdrawal of the United States, since it represents over 60 percent of the trade bloc’s GDP.