Japan ratifies TPP despite Trump's vow to pull out

Ruling coalition lawmakers standing to approve the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal in the lower house of the parliament in Tokyo, on Nov 10, 2016.
Ruling coalition lawmakers standing to approve the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal in the lower house of the parliament in Tokyo, on Nov 10, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

Hopes linger that free-trade pact can be revived one day, even as talks for separate China-backed deal gain pace

TOKYO • Japan yesterday ratified the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade pact aimed at linking a dozen Pacific Rim nations, hoping it will one day take effect despite President-elect Donald Trump's pledge that the United States will withdraw from it.

The pact, which aims to reduce trade barriers in some of Asia's fastest-growing economies, but does not include China, has been five years in the making. It must be ratified by at least six countries accounting for 85 per cent of the combined gross domestic product of the member states. Given the size of the American economy, the deal cannot go through without the US.

It has not been ratified by the US Senate, and Mr Trump last month vowed to withdraw from it after he is inaugurated next month. He plans to replace the TPP with bilaterally negotiated trade deals.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that the TPP would be "meaningless without the United States".

By ratifying the deal in Parliament yesterday, Japan is signalling that it hopes the accord can be resuscitated when conditions are more favourable.

Government officials said the pact would essentially go into deep freeze, but they would not abandon hope of reviving it in future. Mr Taro Kono, a senior lawmaker in Mr Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said there was a chance Mr Trump would change his mind.

 

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Then New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was reported to have joked last month that it would be fine with him to rename the pact the Trump Pacific Partnership if that would get Mr Trump on board.

America's imminent exit from the TPP has spurred efforts by officials from 16 nations who gathered in Indonesia last week to hammer out a separate, China-backed pact that excludes the US.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks are likely to be substantially concluded by the end of next year, said Malaysian Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed. His comments echoed similar predictions this week by the Asian Development Bank and Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita.

The negotiations, now into their 16th round, began in Bumi Serpong Damai city, near Jakarta, on Dec 2 and are set to end today. The next talks will be held in Japan in February next year.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline 'Japan ratifies TPP despite Trump's vow to pull out'. Print Edition | Subscribe