Published: Sat, June 03, 2017
National | By Rosalie Gross

TPP members agree to pursue deal without US

Economic and trade ministers from 16 Asia-Pacific countries met in Hanoi, Vietnam to push forward the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks amid concerns of rising protectionism in the wake US President Donald Trump's "America First" policies.

The meeting, which was held in Hanoi, Vietnam, was the biggest global trade gathering since U.S. President Donald Trump spoke of his "America First" trade policy - created to protect American jobs.

Lighthizer said although the United States has withdrawn from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the country will continue to cooperate with TPP member economies on a bilateral basis.

At an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting today, the USA ruled out returning to the TPP trade deal and added that it only wanted bilateral agreements in Asia.

Sources close to the discussions said the so-called TPP-11 nations - the 11 left after the United States withdrew - were planning a statement of commitment to the pact.

"We're focused on how we can move ahead with 11 countries", New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay told Reuters.

The PM says he TPP "has taken on a bit more relevance as a strategic agreement at a time when the USA has pulled back".

He and other trade ministers from the bloc of 11 also issued a statement saying they had resolved to "launch a process to assess options to bring the comprehensive, high quality agreement into force".

Mr. Lighthizer was due to meet about a dozen ministers there, a US official said.

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New Zealand's top trade official said his country wouldn't gain much from major changes to a Pacific trade pact, highlighting obstacles to finalizing the deal without the U.S. after Malaysia called for more negotiations.

The one-day meeting of ministers from the 11 TPP members was held on the sidelines of the APEC forum.

In this weekend's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting of ministers, the competing visions came as apparent that account for well over 40% of world trade.

Former US president Barack Obama spearheaded the TPP as a way to counter China's regional economic dominance.

A statement from Mr Lighthizer said free trade required the tackling of "trade-distorting measures" that have led to "massive U.S. trade imbalances" in the region - a possible reference to China's trade surplus, which was almost $US350 billion in 2016.

Japan hopes to convince the United States to rejoin the TPP deal with changes to the agreed terms, according to the Japanese delegation to the meeting.

Under current rules, the TPP requires ratification by nations accounting for 85 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the 12 countries.

The RCEP talks, which began in 2012, have been given new impetus by the USA withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. We very much expect to do that.

Asked why the United States was against using language opposing protectionism, he said it favoured free trade, but would defend against unfair trade.

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