Chief negotiators from the 11 signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership gathered Wednesday in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, to check on their progress with domestic procedures to ratify the pact, amid fears of a trade war.
During talks through Thursday, negotiators will also discuss how to welcome other countries seeking to join the free trade pact — from which the United States has withdrawn under President Donald Trump.
“We can expect the pact to take effect early next year,” said Japan’s chief negotiator Kazuyoshi Umemoto at the outset of the gathering.
The pact, formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, will take effect 60 days after at least six countries complete their domestic procedures.
Earlier this month, Japan became the second country after Mexico to finish its domestic procedures to ratify the pact, which will cover around 13 percent of the world’s economy and about 15 percent of global trade by value.
Singapore and New Zealand are also making progress toward completing their domestic procedures.
Thailand, Indonesia and Columbia are among the countries seen as interested in joining the TPP.
The creation of such a massive free trade bloc in the Asia-Pacific region is apparently intended to counter growing worries about protectionism, as Trump has moved to apply higher tariffs on some imports from its major trading partners, including China, to correct what he sees as trade imbalances.
The negotiators’ meeting is the first since the 11 members signed the revised TPP in March, and comes a day after Japan signed a free trade agreement with the European Union.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has viewed free trade as a key contributor to his Abenomics policy, has stressed the importance of multilateral trade frameworks such as the TPP.
Japan hosted in June a meeting of ministers from 16 Asia-Pacific countries who are negotiating to create another regional trade bloc, known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), with an eye to reaching a broad agreement by the end of the year.
Japan and the United States are also expected to hold their first round of high-level talks to discuss trade as soon as this month.
The 11 TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
Also on Wednesday, Japan and Thailand held a high-level meeting to discuss how to promote multilateral free trade and strengthen cooperation on building infrastructure.
During the meeting in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it is important to build a new regional economic order, referring to the ongoing RCEP negotiations.
Suga also said that frameworks such as the TPP are “closely linked to (Japan’s) free and open Indo-Pacific strategy.”
Thailand’s delegation, including a number of economic ministers, was led by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.
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