Trump Rejection of Pacific Rim Trade Pact Rued in Asia


TOKYO — President-elect Donald Trump’s announcement that he plans to quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal may spell the end of the dozen-nation trade pact — at least in its original form.

But other Pacific Rim leaders are vowing to pursue market-opening efforts they view as vital for their own countries’ future growth. Meanwhile, China also is moving ahead with rival free-trade initiatives.

Trump’s message, in a short video on his future administration’s plans, was issued just after leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group ended their annual summit Sunday with a unified call to fight the backlash against free trade highlighted by Trump’s victory and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

In an annex to their summit statement, the APEC leaders gathered in Lima, Peru, voiced support for the TPP, which has been envisioned as a step toward building a wider, pan-Pacific free trade zone.

Speaking after his return home, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told reporters Tuesday there were alternatives.

“The United States isn’t an island. It can’t just sit there and say it’s not going to trade with the rest of the world,” Key said. “At some point they’re going to have to give some consideration to that. But naturally, we’re a bit disappointed.”

Trump described the 12-nation trade pact as a “potential disaster for our country.” He has also said he wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

President Barack Obama recently announced that his administration was giving up seeking congressional approval for the Pacific Rim trade pact, which he had championed as a strategy for ensuring U.S. could lead the process of devising a “gold standard” set of rules for 21st century trade.

“I think not moving forward would undermine our position across the region and our ability to shape the rules of global trade in a way that reflects our interests and our values,” Obama told reporters in Lima.

Under terms of the TPP agreement signed this year in New Zealand, the vast free trade agreement can be only implemented, in its current form, if it is ratified by at least six countries that account for 85 percent of the combined gross domestic production of the 12 TPP nations.

Since the U.S. accounts for 60 percent of the combined GDP of the group, and Japan less than 20 percent, those conditions cannot be met without U.S. participation.

During their weekend meeting in Peru, some Asia-Pacific leaders said they might try to modify the trade pact to make it more appealing to Trump, or try to push ahead without the U.S.

Key said he wasn’t surprised at the comments Trump made after he campaigned strongly against the agreement. But the U.S. will need to think about what role it wants to play in Asia and how it will access fast-growing markets there, he said.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that while Trump and other members of his administration would have to decide for themselves, the other 11 members of the TPP were unanimous in wanting to ratify it and see it come into force.

From “Australia’s point of view, getting access, greater access for Australian exports, whether it is goods or services to those big markets is manifestly in our interest,” Turnbull said.

“It is manifestly delivering more jobs, better jobs and stronger economic growth in Australia.”

But after Trump’s announcement Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who last week became the first foreign leader to meet the president-elect since his Nov. 8 election victory, was less optimistic.

“TPP is meaningless without the United States,” Abe told reporters while on an official visit to Argentina. He said renegotiating the agreement would “disturb the fundamental balance of benefits.”

As Japan’s most powerful leader in a decade, Abe invested political capital in overcoming strong domestic opposition to the TPP, especially from farmers and the medical lobby.

His ruling Liberal Democratic Party pushed TPP ratification through the lower house of parliament and had been set to seek final approval in the upper house.

The TPP member countries also include Chile, Mexico, Canada, Peru, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Australia.

With the TPP likely stalled, other trade initiatives may gain traction.

That includes the less well-known Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP. It includes many Asian-Pacific countries, including China, India, Indonesia and South Korea, which are not part of the TPP. So far, no countries from the Americas have joined.