TPP members woo China after US exit

The Pacific Rim nations say they are determined to salvage a major trade pact after US President Donald Trump kept his promise to pull out of the accord.

Australia and New Zealand said on Tuesday they will seek to encourage China and other Asian nations to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) while Chile said it will continue to pursue new deals.

The TPP was a pillar of former US President Barack Obama’s policy to pivot to Asia, which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has touted as a counterweight to a rising China.

On Monday, Trump signed an executive order, pulling the United States out of the 2015 agreement and distancing the United States from its Asian allies.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he held discussions with his Japanese, New Zealander and Singaporean counterparts about the possibility of proceeding with the TPP without the US.

“Losing the United States from the TPP is a big loss, there is no question about that. But we are not about to walk away … certainly there is potential for China to join the TPP,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra Tuesday.

China’s counter pact to Obama’s “pivot to Asia” is the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) and the Southeast Asian-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English said the region could switch to alternative trade deals, warning the US it was ceding influence to China.

“We’ve got this RCEP agreement with Southeast Asia, which up until now has been on a bit of a slow burn, but we might find the political will for that to pick up if TPP isn’t going to proceed,” he said.

Malaysia said negotiators from the remaining TPP countries would be in “constant communication” to decide the best way forward.

Across the Pacific, Chile said it has invited ministers from other TPP members as well as China and South Korea to a summit in the South American country in March to pursue new deals and has received positive responses at a high level.

Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said another regional trade deal without the US might be possible but “it wouldn’t be the TPP.”

Another member, Mexico, said it would immediately seek bilateral deals with other countries that signed the TPP.

Non-member the Philippines, which is a key US ally, said it will build closer economic ties with its Asian neighbors, including China.

US President Donald Trump signs an executive order alongside White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (R) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, January 23, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership also includes Brunei, Canada, Peru and Vietnam.

Trump has argued that free trade agreements like TPP were lopsided against the US and harmful to American workers and manufacturing. He has promised to implement more protectionist trade policies as president, sparking alarm even among European allies.

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