HAKONE – Chief negotiators from the 11 signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreed on Thursday to start accession talks with potential newcomers in 2019, when the free trade pact takes effect.
During a two-day meeting from Wednesday in the hot-spring resort of Hakone near Tokyo, the negotiators checked members’ progress toward completing domestic procedures to ratify the trade accord and discussed the future expansion of the TPP framework, which covers around 13 percent of the world’s economy.
Thailand, Indonesia, Columbia, South Korea and Taiwan are seen as willing to join the revised TPP, which was signed in March and is now formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Faced with growing concerns about the rise of protectionism and fears of a trade war, the TPP members are seeking solidarity in creating a wider free trade zone in the Asia-Pacific despite the abrupt U.S. pullout from the framework.
“We will likely need to start procedures soon after the pact takes effect,” Kazuhisa Shibuya, the senior government official responsible for the TPP, told reporters after the meeting, referring to the accession talks.
He added that the chief negotiators will likely meet again by the end of the year.
As for talks about the expanded trade area, arrangements are expected to be made by the existing members for holding the first meeting of a so-called TPP committee in Japan.
The pact will take effect 60 days after at least six countries complete their domestic procedures. Japan, Mexico and Singapore have already ended their ratification processes, with three more — Australia, New Zealand and Vietnam — likely to follow suit by the end of the year.
In addition, Britain — which has decided to leave the European Union — has also shown interest, with Trade Minister Liam Fox saying Wednesday it will broach the issue with the public.
In Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Thursday hailed Britain’s interest, adding that Japan is ready to share the pertinent information.
New members interested in joining will likely be required to accept what has already been negotiated by the existing 11 members in such areas as intellectual property.
Japan is promoting free trade through both multilateral and bilateral agreements. Earlier in the week, Tokyo signed a free trade accord with the European Union, cementing one of the world’s largest bilateral FTAs.
Talks are also under way for a more diverse free trade bloc including giants China and India called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
The 11 TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.