11 Mar 2017

New Pacific trade deal possible for TPP countries

11:12 am on 11 March 2017

Countries that signed up for the failed trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will meet in Chile next week, seeking a way forward on a regional deal.

The delegates gather after the signing ceremony

TPP delegates gather in 2015 after a signing ceremony in Auckland. Photo: MFAT

Representatives from the 12 countries that formed the TPP, plus China and South Korea, will meet for the first time since US President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the TPP in January, effectively killing the accord in its current form.

The Chile meeting is a sign efforts to find an alternative Asia-Pacific trade pact are moving ahead, with China now likely leading the talks after the US dropped out.

Chile has accomplished its first goal of getting everyone together and will seek commitments for further meetings to evaluate alternatives, Paulina Nazal told Reuters in an interview in Santiago on Wednesday evening.

"The objective is to confirm if the strategy of growth and openness of recent years is what we believe to be correct," she said.

"Do we need to include other issues? Do we need to implement policies that complement the opening of trade or not?"

It was still premature to say what the future roadmap would look like, she added.

"What we have seen from the various delegations is that it's too open still," said Nazal. "This is going to be the first meeting on how we go forward."

Likely options could be to build on the base of pre-existing agreements - such as Latin America's four-country Pacific Alliance, or the proposed Southeast Asian-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - she said.

Countries including Australia, New Zealand and Canada had a "similar commercial approach" to the Pacific Alliance and had signaled an interest in joining or negotiating as a bloc, said Nazal.

"Others evidently feel more comfortable with the RCEP model and they could open a door to let others in."

China, which is part of RCEP talks, has argued the TPP was too complex and political rather than purely trade-based. Critics of the RCEP - including the former Obama administration - warned it would not include strong protections for workers, the environment or intellectual property.

With the election of Mr Trump and the demise of the TPP, eyes have been on Beijing to take the lead on future trade talks.

"The Chinese want to be the leaders, the benchmark," said Nazal. "That was not like that before."

Speaking in Beijing on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China was willing to increase dialogue and coordination on an Asia-Pacific trade with all countries, adding that China was "proactively studying" participation in the meeting.

- Reuters

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