TOKYO (REUTERS) - Australia and Japan are committed to signing an Asia-Pacific trade deal by March with countries in the region ready to forge a pact to replace the derailed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Thursday (Jan 18).
"Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe and I are personally committed to having this deal signed and sealed by March," Mr Turnbull said in a speech in Tokyo.
Eleven countries met at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam last November to keep alive a Trans Pacific trade deal after US President Donald Trump in early 2017 announced that the United States was withdrawing in the name of protecting US jobs.
Ministers from the 11 countries including Japan, Australia and Canada agreed on core elements to move ahead without the US, but demands by countries including Canada for measures to ensure the deal protects jobs remain a sticking point.
"Our strong preference is for all 11 countries to join the first wave but our focus is on bringing a new TPP agreement into force as soon as possible with those who are ready to move," Mr Turnbull said.
Negotiators will meet in Tokyo next week in the hope of smoothing out obstacles to an agreement, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The agreement will leave a door open for eventual US participation, Mr Turnbull added.
"We are consciously setting it up to enable and encourage the United States to dock in should it choose to do so in the future," he said.
Mr Turnbull and Mr Abe later promised to work together to bolster security ties and they condemned North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes as "flagrant violations" of UN Security Council resolutions.
The two "reaffirmed their commitment to continuing coordination to implement strong autonomous sanctions and to bringing maximum pressure to North Korea", they said in a statement.
"North Korea presents an unprecedented imminent threat," Mr Abe said during a joint news announcement with Mr Turnbull.
They also directed their governments to conclude a visiting forces agreement, which would make it easier for Japanese troops to train at bases in Australia and for them to increase cooperation through joint exercises.
The two countries have been negotiating such an agreement since 2014. It would be the first such agreement that Japan has with another country apart from the US.