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May 22, 2017

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TPP talks to move forward without US

ASIA-PACIFIC trade ministers agreed yesterday to try to revive a massive free trade pact, even though the United States reaffirmed its decision to pull out, as fears grow of a new global era of protectionism.

The 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership covered 40 percent of the global economy before Trump abruptly abandoned it in January to meet a campaign pledge to save American jobs which he says have been sucked up overseas.

Japan, Australia and New Zealand are leading efforts by the so-called TPP 11 to resuscitate the agreement, convinced it will lock in future free trade and strengthen labor rights and environmental protection.

After an early-morning huddle in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay said the TPP 11 “are committed to finding a way forward to deliver” the pact.

Trade representatives agreed to help the US to rejoin the deal at any time, pinning hopes on a U-turn in American policy.

But Trump’s newly appointed trade chief Robert Lighthizer poured cold water on the prospect of a US return, saying Washington “pulled out of the TPP and it’s not going to change that decision.”

“The TPP 11 can make their own decisions, the United States makes its decisions, that’s what sovereign nations do,” Lighthizer said, adding that his nation will “stay engaged” in the area, albeit on a bilateral basis.

After seven years of talks, the finalized TPP proposal was signed in February last year but cannot go into force until it is ratified by six countries with a combined 85 percent of the bloc’s total GDP.

The deal goes further than most existing free trade pacts, with labor laws, environmental protection and intellectual property rights touted as a new gold standard for global trade.

It promised to transform smaller economies such as Vietnam by offering unprecedented access to the world’s top economies.

The Trump administration has said it is seeking bilateral agreements rather than sweeping free trade pacts, and is pushing for fair trade with partners and not just free trade.


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