US mulling over rejoining TPP, says Treasury's Mnuchin

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said officials have started high-level discussions about the TPP.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said officials have started high-level discussions about the TPP.

But re-entry to trade pact may be tough as 11 members spent months to settle deal

WASHINGTON • More than a year after US President Donald Trump abruptly pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), saying it was a bad deal for the United States, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the US is discussing rejoining the multilateral trade agreement.

Mr Mnuchin, speaking on Tuesday at an investment summit meeting sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce, said that renegotiating the trade agreement was "on the table" and that he had been in talks with other countries about what it would take for the US to reverse course.

Mr Trump withdrew from the deal in January last year, dooming President Barack Obama's signature trade agreement and leaving the 11 other countries, including Japan and Singapore, in the pact scrambling to renegotiate the deal on their own.

But Mr Trump appears to have found a renewed interest in an agreement that he once described as "a rape of our country".

"I've met with several of my counterparties and other people, and we've begun to have very high-level conversations about TPP," Mr Mnuchin said, adding that Mr Trump would still prefer to do one-on-one trade agreements first.

"It's not a priority at the moment, but it is something the President will consider."

Mr Trump opened the door to taking another look at the agreement in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, leading to speculation about whether he was upending his "America First" trade policy.

"If we did a substantially better deal, I would be open to TPP," Mr Trump said during an interview with CNBC.

Even if Mr Trump is serious about trying to renegotiate the deal, doing so would be difficult at this point. The remaining 11 countries spent months renegotiating and finally agreed to a sweeping multinational deal this year.

The 11 nations, led by Japan, announced in January that the new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) would go ahead with some adjustments after the US pulled out of an earlier version. More than 20 parts of the original pact had been suspended or changed.

President Michelle Bachelet of Chile told the Nikkei newspaper this week that the US would be welcome to return to the deal but that it would have to accept the terms of the agreement that the 11 other nations expect to ratify.

Mr Kazuyoshi Umemoto, Japan's chief negotiator on the deal, told Reuters this month that renegotiating the agreement would be difficult given that it took months of intensive talks to revise the pact.

Still, Japan's former TPP minister, Mr Akira Amari, said in an interview Tuesday that it might be feasible to add new clauses on topics not currently covered if US concerns cannot be addressed outside the TPP framework.

The 11 member countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

They are expected to sign the pact in Chile on March 8.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2018, with the headline 'US mulling over rejoining TPP, says Treasury's Mnuchin'. Print Edition | Subscribe