Japan launches push to save TPP

Japan launches push to save TPP

Japan is looking to raise its profile along the Pacific Rim, and was a key participant at the Alianza del Pacifico (Pacific Alliance) summit in Vina del Mar, Chile last month. From left: Cabinet Office Minister Takao Ochi, Foreign Minister Kentaro Sonoura and Toshinao Nakagawa, Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. (Reuters Photo)
Japan is looking to raise its profile along the Pacific Rim, and was a key participant at the Alianza del Pacifico (Pacific Alliance) summit in Vina del Mar, Chile last month. From left: Cabinet Office Minister Takao Ochi, Foreign Minister Kentaro Sonoura and Toshinao Nakagawa, Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. (Reuters Photo)

TOKYO: Japan will push forward with talks to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact into force without the United States, which withdrew from the agreement in January, a government source said Saturday.

The TPP was signed last year with the aim of achieving high-level trade and investment liberalisation, but President Donald Trump cast it adrift days after he took office in January, as he prefers to negotiate bilateteral deals. The 12-country pact does not include China, and only four Asean nations -- Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei -- are taking part. However, Japan has now become eager to take the lead in making the deal effective for the remaining 11 countries, the source said.

The 11 nations are expected to start discussing the issue at a meeting of their chief negotiators in Canada in early May, and at a meeting of their trade ministers in Vietnam late next month on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) gathering.

Tokyo had expressed reluctance to have the TPP come into force without Washington amid concern that Japanese exporters, such as automakers, would gain little benefit without the United States, the biggest market in the grouping.

But with free trade perceived to be under threat with the rise of protectionism since the Trump administration took office, calls have been growing in the government for Tokyo's leadership in keeping the momentum for free trade.

On Saturday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga indicated Tokyo's readiness to proceed with TPP implementation while ensuring US understanding, saying in an interview with Kyodo News, "We have a feeling that the 11-nation framework should be given weight."

As the outlook for the TPP is uncertain, Japan, which is aiming to expand free trade for growth in its export-oriented economy, has also promoted talks on the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes the 10 Asean states plus China, Japan, India, Soyuth Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Analysts, however, have voiced concern that high-level trade rules may not be established under the RCEP because Beijing, the largest economy in the grouping, may seek to impose its rules on the region.

The TPP was signed in February 2016 by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam -- covering around 40% of the global economy.

Under the current rules, TPP implementation requires ratification by nations accounting for 85% of the combined GDP of the 12 member countries. The deal was therefore effectively dead in the wake of the withdrawal of the United States because the country represents over 60% of the trade bloc's GDP.

But Mr Trump, who took office in January pledging to pull the United States out of what he called a "job-killing" free trade pact, has not opposed the remaining 11 nations implementing the TPP.

One proposal to lower the threshold for bringing the pact into force envisions a separate protocol to allow the TPP to be applied to any remaining member that agrees to it, the source said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government plans to finalise its position on the TPP after considering the outcome of a high-level Japan-US economic dialogue to be held in Tokyo on Tuesday, the source said.

The talks will be led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and US Vice President Mike Pence. They are set to discuss infrastructure investment, trade rules and macroeconomic policy.


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