DANANG, VIETNAM – Ministers of the 11 signatories remaining in the Trans-Pacific Partnership reached an agreement in principle Thursday to go ahead with the implementation of the free trade deal without the United States.
“It is a high-standard and balanced agreement,” said Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s minister for TPP negotiations, after rounds of ministerial meetings since Wednesday on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in the central Vietnamese city of Danang.
“The agreement has a great significance in creating free, fair and new rules in the Asia-Pacific region where growth is robust,” Motegi told journalists.
The specific contents of the agreement will be announced after confirmation by the 11 countries’ leaders when they gather for the APEC forum on Friday, he added.
Motegi said he reported the agreement to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who arrived in Danang earlier Thursday to attend the APEC forum. Motegi quoted Abe as telling him that the “TPP is extremely important in terms of Japan’s growth strategy.”
In reaching the deal, the ministers overcame differences over which clauses of the original text to suspend implementing until when Washington may return to the pact.
They did not make amendments to the original deal, signed in February 2016 by the 11 countries and the United States, in the hope Washington will be attracted once again.
The 11 TPP countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. With the United States, the Pacific Rim trade pact covered around 40 percent of the global economy.
The 11-party TPP slashes the total of gross domestic product it covers by 13 percent from what the pact would have been with the United States, but trade experts say the deal still creates a free trade area with high-standard market liberalization.
Japan, the largest economy in the TPP framework after the United States, has led the way to salvage the deal after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the world’s biggest economy from the free trade pact in January, saying Americans would lose jobs if the country joined the multilateral free trade deal and that he prefers pursuing bilateral trade agreements.
The pullout came as a shock to the other 11 members, given that the Pacific Rim deal was a landmark pillar of Trump predecessor Barack Obama’s policy of a strategic rebalance, or “pivot,” to the Asia-Pacific region and had significance not only economically but in security aspects, amid the rise of China.
Although Trump again rejected the idea of returning to the TPP during his earlier visit to Tokyo, Motegi said “Japan would like to tenaciously explain to the United States the significance of it returning to the pact.”
In Thursday’s ministerial meeting, a draft of the agreement that Japan, which chaired the meeting with Vietnam, had prepared was the basis of discussions, with a focus on sensitive issues that require political decisions.
Some countries remained cautious. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Wednesday that “Canada will not be rushed into a deal that is not in the best interest of Canada and of Canadians,” according to Reuters news agency.
Mexico and Canada have called for the suspension of clauses regarding intellectual property, while Vietnam pushed for a review of a rule that cuts or eliminates tariffs on apparel products, the country’s major exports.
A change of government in New Zealand had also stoked fears that it may review its preceding administration’s stance that strongly advocated for the TPP.