TPP member nations aim to sign trade pact without U.S. on March 8

Kyodo

The 11 remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership will aim to sign a new pact without the United States on March 8 in Chile after overcoming differences on outstanding issues, including a request by Canada on cultural protection, a Japanese minister said Tuesday.

“It is a landmark (deal) for the future of our country and the Asia-Pacific region,” said Toshimitsu Motegi, the government’s TPP minister. He made the comments after a two-day meeting in Tokyo through Tuesday, at which top trade officials of the 11 countries finalized the text and agreed on the date for a signing ceremony.

After the deal comes into force, “I would like to explain to the United States the importance of the pact in the hope of its return,” Motegi said. “Other countries have also shown interest (in the TPP) so I want to share information and seek an expansion of the TPP.”

Representatives were cautious about Canada’s request to restrict foreign films — a bid to protect its French-speaking culture — as the move could mean revising the pact’s agreement on trade liberalization.

It was decided that the issue will be worked out in the form of side letters, separate from the deal’s main text, Motegi said. The details of the side letter agreement will not be made public until the pact is signed, a Japanese official said.

After the U.S. withdrawal, the remaining 11 parties agreed on core elements of a new version of the pact — now formally called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership —in November in Vietnam, but some matters were left for further negotiation.

In addition to Canada’s requests on cultural protection, three other issues remained as obstacles to finalizing the deal. Vietnam has demanded exemption from trade sanctions that can be imposed by other countries when laborers’ rights are not protected, Malaysia has sought continued preferential treatment for state-owned enterprise and Brunei is asking for protection for its coal industry.

Negotiators sorted out the requests by Malaysia and Brunei by deciding to suspend the provisions in question. They agreed to address Vietnam’s request with separate documents, Motegi said.

Canada, facing tough negotiations with the United States over the North American Free Trade Agreement — which also involves Mexico — has indicated its intention not to be rushed into signing the Pacific trade pact in its current form, while Japan, Australia and Chile hope to sign the deal by March.

Given Canada’s reluctance to be rushed, some Japanese negotiators have floated the idea of signing without Ottawa.

Tokyo, seeking to implement the deal as soon as possible, wants the agreement signed by early March so that bills for its ratification can be submitted to the 150-day ordinary Diet session that started Monday.

Chile has said it wants to host the signing ceremony before its new president takes office on March 11, Japanese sources said.

Japan has led the way in resurrecting the pact since the withdrawal of the United States by President Donald Trump in January last year. Trump said the multilateral pact would hurt American jobs and that he preferred bilateral trade deals.

The original pact was signed by the 11 countries and the United States in February 2016 but was never implemented after Washington pulled out.

Excluding the United States, the 11-party pact’s share of world gross domestic product drops to 13 percent, but trade experts say the deal would still create a free trade area with high-standard market liberalization.

The 11 countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.