TPP is not dead, give the US time: Australia

Men holding signs as they demonstrate against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement in Washington, DC.
Men holding signs as they demonstrate against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY • Australia has declared the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) not dead ahead of key trade talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Sydney today, despite opposition to the trade pact from United States President-elect Donald Trump.

The talks between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Abe also come amid heightened regional tension as China asserts its claims over the disputed South China Sea, setting up a potential clash with the incoming Trump administration.

"Talk of the TPP being dead is premature. We need to give the Americans time to work through this issue," Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio yesterday.

The 12-member TPP, which aims to cut trade barriers in some of Asia's fastest-growing economies but does not include China, cannot take effect without the US, given the sheer size of the American economy.

The deal, which has been in the making for five years, requires ratification by at least six countries accounting for 85 per cent of the combined gross domestic product of the member nations.

US President Barack Obama has said that not moving forward with the TPP would undermine the US position in the Asia-Pacific.

Mr Ciobo said that if the TPP was rejected, Australia would seek free trade agreements with individual Asian nations. "We will certainly continue to look for trade opportunities. Australia is a trading nation," he said.

Japan is the only signatory to have ratified the TPP, which has a two-year timetable for all members to sign into law.

Besides trade, Mr Turnbull and Mr Abe are expected to discuss regional security, with tensions rising as China flexes its territorial claim in the South China Sea, and Mr Trump and his incoming administration challenging Beijing.

China's recent naval exercises in the disputed seaway and the building of islands there, with military assets, have unnerved its neighbours. Taiwan scrambled jets and navy ships this week as China's only aircraft carrier sailed through the Taiwan Strait after exercises in the South China Sea.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2017, with the headline 'TPP is not dead, give the US time: Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe