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Expansion of Pacific trade deal discussed at ministerial meeting in Tokyo

Kyodo

The 11 members of a trans-Pacific free trade agreement on Saturday held their first ministerial meeting since the pact entered into force, discussing its future expansion as well as how to counter the rise of protectionism.

“Our door is open for countries and regions that share our vision and are ready to accept the high-standard rules” of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the meeting in Tokyo where the delegates launched its decision-making panel.

The challenge for current members is to set procedures to accept newcomers, with the list of countries interested in joining including Thailand and the United Kingdom.

The outlook for an expanded CPTPP is unknown, however, due to uncertainty over Brexit as well as a planned general election in Thailand, some analysts have said.

Abe expressed hope that the remaining member countries will speed up their domestic ratification processes so the pact will enter into force for all 11 members “as soon as possible,” as confidence in the global trade system has been “greatly shaken.”

The CPTPP was enacted on Dec. 30 after Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore ended their ratification processes, in what was widely seen as an effort to counter the threat of protectionism amid an escalating tariff war between China and the United States.

The pact entered into force for Vietnam last Monday. Brunei, Chile, Malaysia and Peru have yet to ratify the agreement.

The accord, covering around 13 percent of the world economy, is designed to cut tariffs on agricultural and industrial products, ease investment restrictions and enhance intellectual property protection.

The 11 members salvaged the pact after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the world’s largest economy out of the agreement in 2017. A revised version was signed in March last year.

Japan has been promoting multiparty free trade arrangements while it awaits the start later this year of bilateral trade talks with the United States.

“Japan will aim to expand the free, fair, and rules-based economic area,” Abe said. “As Group of 20 chair this year, we will spare no effort to strengthen the international trade system, including reform of the World Trade Organization.”

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