Pacific trade pact talks resume, but progress uncertain prior to Trump arrival

The Pacific Rim trade pact abandoned by Donald Trump remains in limbo, judging from differing reports on the status of Cabinet level talks on pushing ahead without the United States.

Japan's minister on reviving the economy, Toshimitsu Motegi, told reporters that a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal was reached late on Thursday.

Meanwhile leaders from New Zealand and Australia said the discussions were continuing.

There is "still more work to do, but we're inching closer," said Australia's trade minister, Steve Ciobo.

The 11 remaining members of the TPP are trying to find a way forward without the US, the biggest economy and before Mr Trump took office one of its most assertive supporters.

The negotiations are being held in Danang, Vietnam, alongside meetings of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum, where Mr Trump's markedly different stance from past US leaders was being felt even before his arrival on Friday in the coastal resort city.

While most Apec members say they remain committed to their multi-country approach in weaving their economies ever closer together, many acknowledge that open trade is a mixed bag: Not everyone benefits equally.

Mr Trump is seeking to renegotiate several major trade agreements, most notably the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to, he says, put "America First."

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told a business conference on the Apec sidelines that he believed Mr Trump was pushing back because America was the first victim of globalisation.

China's decision to open its markets to the world under leader Deng Xiaoping attracted US businesses eager to take advantage of the country's low-cost environment. "And that is why Trump is trying to roll it back and say America First," Mr Duterte said.

Trade and foreign ministers of 11 members of the TPP hope to agree in principle on a way forward without the US after Mr Trump pulled out earlier this year.

New Zealand Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker said the TPP talks being held at the ministerial level were more likely to progress if few changes are made to the original accord.

"The more the changes, the harder it may be to form a consensus," Mr Parker said in an interview on Thursday. "There is good will. There is a desire to make progress."

But Mr Parker said it was still uncertain if talks among the TPP leaders themselves, scheduled for later Friday, would be held as planned.

Japan likewise is eager to see the talks succeed, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters before leaving Tokyo for Danang.

"We will do our utmost so that we can reach a basic agreement," Mr Abe said.

The US push-back on "free trade," evidenced in Mr Trump's "America First" policy, has raised eyebrows in the region after decades of US pressure on opening markets.

While APEC operates by consensus and customarily issues nonbinding statements, TPP commitments would eventually be ratified and enforced by its members.

"There is a new trend of protectionism that reflects new aspects of globalisation," Vietnamese trade minister Tran Tuan Anh said.

APEC's members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the US and Vietnam.

- AP



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