The leaders of Japan and New Zealand agreed Thursday to work toward expanding the existing 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, as they seek further economic and regional integration in the Indo-Pacific.
After meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said they had agreed to deepen defense ties through joint exercises. He added that the two nations share universal values and back the free and open, rules-based international order.
“I wish to elevate our strategic cooperative relationship to new heights,” Abe said at a joint press appearance with Ardern.
Ardern, who is on her first visit to Japan since becoming prime minister in 2017, said the two nations could do more together in the region as their relationship is stable in a “challenging and changing” global environment.
“We discussed our sheer desire to further regional and economic integration through expanding the membership of the CPTPP,” Ardern said, referring to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership by the trade agreement’s full name.
Japan and New Zealand were among the first six nations that ratified TPP, paving the way for its entry into force in December following the abrupt pullout of the United States from the original version in 2017.
Abe and Ardern confirmed at their summit in Tokyo that they hope to wrap up by the year’s end negotiations to create what would be the world’s largest free trade zone, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which would cover more than 3.5 billion people.
RCEP brings together Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, as well as the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
At the summit, the two leaders discussed closer coordination in realizing North Korea’s complete denuclearization and vowed to follow through on commitments under the 2015 Paris climate accord to combat global warming.
Ardern’s trip, set to extend through Sunday, comes as Japan hosts the 2019 Rugby World Cup. She is expected to cheer on the All Blacks as they face South Africa on Saturday. At the joint news conference, Abe and Ardern presented each other with the uniform of their respective rugby teams.
The 39-year-old prime minister became widely known as the first sitting leader to use maternity leave, taking six weeks off after giving birth to her daughter in June last year.
“I’d like to express my respect to Prime Minister Ardern, who has become a role model for women across the globe by engaging in child rearing and premiership at the same time,” Abe said.