TPP nations welcome Trump’s interest, reject renegotiation

WASHINGTON • Members of an 11-nation Asia-Pacific trade pact said last Friday they opposed any renegotiation of the deal to accommodate the US should it decide to rejoin at a later date.

Ministers from Japan, Australia and Malaysia welcomed US President Donald Trump directing officials to explore returning to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact he withdrew from shortly after coming to office. But they also cautioned against making any significant changes.

“We welcome the US coming back to the table but I don’t see any wholesale appetite for any material re-negotiation of the TPP-11,” Australia Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said last Friday.

Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s minister in charge of TPP, also said it would be difficult to change the deal, calling it a “balanced one, like fine glassware”. Malaysia’s International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed echoed these remarks, saying that re-negotiation would “alter the balance of benefits for parties”.

In a Twitter post last Thursday night, Trump said the US “would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to President Barack Obama. We already have BILATERAL deals with six of the 11 nations in TPP, and are working to make a deal with the biggest of those nations, Japan, who has hit us hard on trade for years!”

In remarks last Thursday, he also expressed optimism about a deal with China, a week after escalating tensions with his threat to impose tariffs on an additional US$100 billion (RM388.09 billion) in Chinese products. He said the two countries ultimately may end up levying no new tariffs on each other.

“Now we’re really negotiating and I think they’re going to treat us really fairly,” Trump said during a White House meeting with Republican governors and lawmakers from farm states. “I think they want to.”

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross later said the administration needs to see concrete actions from China to reach a deal.

The remarks were another conciliatory signal from the administration following tit-for-tat tariffs proposals from the world’s largest two economies that rattled markets. Trump also indicated that talks are progressing toward successful re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump withdrew the US from the TPP during his first week in office. The pact, which was conceived as a counter-weight to China’s rising economic power in the region, had been negotiated under the Obama administration but never approved by Congress.

Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who participated in a meeting with Trump last Thursday where he spoke about rejoining the deal,

said: “He multiple times reaffirmed the point that TPP might be easier to join now.”

The news drew a rebuke from opponents of the multilateral trade pact. The American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations president Richard Trumka, head of the main trade union group, said on Twitter that TPP “was killed because it failed America’s workers and it should remain dead”.

Democrat Senator Sherrod Brown, said he was “very open to a new TPP” as long as it had strong labour rights protections and currency provisions. “You’d need a whole re-negotiation.”

The 11 remaining nations represent 13% of global output and include Japan and Canada. They finalised a revised version of the trade pact last month, renaming it the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership or CPTPP. — Bloomberg