Vietnam ratifies trans-Pacific trade agreement

HANOI • Vietnam yesterday became the seventh country to ratify a Pacific trade pact set to take effect next month, despite US President Donald Trump's pullout from a deal he decried as a "job killer".

Eleven countries revived a slimmed-down version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without the US, though the new pact keeps the door open in case of a change of heart - or government - in the world's largest economy.

Australia last month became the sixth country to ratify the now-renamed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), paving the way for the pact to come into force at the end of December with more than half of its members officially signed on.

Vietnam followed suit with a unanimous vote by lawmakers to approve the deal. "This is an important political decision, affirming our country's active role in international integration," said Mr Nguyen Van Giau, head of the National Assembly's external relations unit.

Vietnam's fast-growing export economy stood to gain enormously from open access to US markets, a key outlet for cheap manufactured goods such as Adidas shoes and Gap T-shirts, before Mr Trump pulled the plug on the US' participation.

The protectionist President called the deal a "death blow for American manufacturing" and singled out Vietnam for taking jobs he would rather see on his home turf.

The trade pact was spearheaded by former US president Barack Obama who dubbed it a "gold standard" for 21st-century trade rules - and a crucial counter to China's rising global economic might.

 
 
 

The deal will bind members to a tougher legal framework for trade, lower tariffs and open markets. It will also introduce new labour standards - a sticking point for communist Vietnam, where all labour unions are controlled by the one-party state. The establishment of independent unions "may bring about some challenges", Mr Giau said, but added Hanoi was open to making the necessary reforms.

Even without the US in the mix, the CPTPP has been described as a game changer. It covers many rapidly growing economies that account for around 14 per cent of world trade.

Members have said the US would be welcome to rejoin any time, and have even opened the doors for non-Pacific countries like Britain to join.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2018, with the headline 'Vietnam ratifies trans-Pacific trade agreement'. Print Edition | Subscribe