Australia, Japan lobby for TPP-11

Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo told the Nikkei Asian Review in a report yesterday of the perks that the new deal can still bring.
Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo told the Nikkei Asian Review in a report yesterday of the perks that the new deal can still bring.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • Australia and Japan have emerged as the loudest voices in favour of an 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal sans the United States, for which talks will begin next month.

Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo, in Tokyo for talks with his counterpart Hiroshige Seko, told the Nikkei Asian Review in a report yesterday of the perks that the new deal, dubbed TPP-11, can still bring.

Even without the world's largest economy, the pact can reduce barriers, facilitate trade and investment and, eventually, grow economies and create new jobs, Mr Ciobo said.

Japan initially said that a TPP without the US was "meaningless". But it has had a change of heart and will now lead the bloc, as its largest economy, to resurrect the pact that US President Donald Trump described as a "job killer" when nixing it.

The trade ministers of the 11 countries, including Singapore, are due to meet in Hanoi next month. Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, speaking at Columbia University in New York on Wednesday, said: "I don't know what kind of agreement we'll be arriving at, but I think there will be talk about doing it with 11 countries, without the US."

Even so, Japan has not given up its hopes of wooing the US back to the TPP. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in Tokyo yesterday that the government will continue to "persistently explain" the TPP's benefits to the US.

Japan prefers multilateral trade pacts to bilateral ones, as it is reluctant to accede to more concessions in its politically sensitive sectors such as agriculture and farming.

With a multilateral pact like the TPP, Mr Aso said that "Japan stands to gain from other countries, even if it loses out in some respects to other countries, like the US".

He added: "But in a bilateral deal, you can't do that. You can't get back what you lose from a compromise."

Japan and the US have kicked off a new economic dialogue series, with both sides apparently having divergent agendas. Tokyo wants a broad focus while Washington has insinuated its preference for a bilateral deal.

Walter Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2017, with the headline 'Australia, Japan lobby for TPP-11'. Print Edition | Subscribe