SINGAPORE - As the signing of the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership went off without a hitch on Thursday (March 8) - early on Friday Singapore time - ministers from the newly-formed trade bloc vowed to bring the agreement into force as soon as possible.
"The signing of the Agreement enables us to move to the next phase. Ministers expressed their determination to complete their domestic processes to bring the Agreement into force expeditiously," said the ministers in a joint statement.
They also welcomed the interest shown by a number of other economies wishing to join the trade bloc, which accounts for 13.5 per cent of the world's gross domestic product.
Eleven Pacific Rim countries signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in Chile, which had been revised after the United States withdrew from the agreement in January 2017. The countries are Singapore, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam.
"The door is open for like-minded parties to join the CPTPP once it has entered into force," said Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) in a statement. Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang said: "Singapore looks forward to the implementation of the CPTPP."
Countries will now have to ratify the agreement, a process which involves amending their laws.
The signing comes as US President Donald Trump signed an order to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, a move that other nations and the International Monetary Fund said could start a global trade war.
ADVANTAGES FOR SINGAPORE
The CPTPP will make it easier for Singapore companies to do business in the region, said MTI.
"Singapore companies will be better placed to tap on growth opportunities and increased market access in the Asia-Pacific," said Mr Lim, who represented Singapore in Chile.
He called the signing a significant step towards realising the benefits of the agreement.
The CPTPP will also strengthen trade among countries in the Asia-Pacific region, by significantly eliminating tariffs and non-tariffs barriers for goods, said the trade ministry.
It will also allow service suppliers greater access to business opportunities in a wide range of sectors, and increase their access to government procurement contracts in other countries.
In addition, it will boost trade and investment flows by facilitating investments and putting in place rules that address emerging trade challenges.
The significance of the signing, at a time of creeping protectionist sentiment and on a week when former member America was mulling over steep steel and aluminium tariffs, was not lost on the ministers.
"The agreement demonstrates our collective commitment to an effective, rules-based and transparent trading system which is open to all economies willing to accept these principles," they said in the statement.
Heraldo Munoz, Chile's minister of foreign affairs, said the agreement was a strong signal "against protectionist pressures, in favour of a world open to trade, without unilateral sanctions and without the threat of trade wars."
"We will be giving a very powerful signal," he said at a news conference after giving the joint statement'
Likewise, Mr Lim said: "The signing of the CPTPP is a concrete demonstration of the signatories' commitment to the collective goals of greater trade liberalisation, regional economic integration, and better opportunities for our people."
The CPTPP will reduce tariffs in countries that together amount to more than 13 per cent of the global economy - a total of US$10 trillion (S$13 trillion) in gross domestic product. With the United States, it would have represented 40 per cent, Reuters reported.
Even without the United States, the deal will span a market of nearly 500 million people, making it one of the world's largest trade agreements, according to Chilean and Canadian trade statistics.
The deal's completion comes a year after Mr Trump pulled the United States out of the original agreement on his first day in office.
Led by Japan, the remaining members spent a year reworking the deal and ended up suspending 22 out of the over 1,000 provisions.
The CPTPP will do away with virtually all tariffs and other barriers to trading goods, and help shipments clear Customs more easily.
CPTPP countries accounted for US$214 billion - a fifth - of Singapore's total goods trade last year.
Under the deal, service providers will be able to compete for some government contracts in other member states for the first time, including in Singapore. E-commerce rules can also ensure that data moves freely across borders.
The signing is expected to speed up ongoing negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an Asean-led pact involving seven CPTPP members, which Singapore is pushing hard to conclude. Singapore's hope is that the CPTPP and RCEP can be stepping stones to its "end-goal" of a wider free trade area of the Asia-Pacific, Mr Lim said last week.
The CPTPP agreement leaves the door open for the US to rejoin the club, a step Mr Trump in January hinted he would be open to if the US could get a "substantially better deal".
National University of Singapore economist Davin Chor said the deal showed that the rest of the world was prepared to advance free trade, with or without the US.
"Like it or not, the Trump ad-ministration and the US could find itself increasingly isolated in the international trade policy arena," he said.