HANOI, Vietnam - In an effort to salvage a multilateral agreement championed under the Obama administration, the 11 countries made efforts to proceed with the core elections of the trans-pacific trade pact on Saturday.
On Saturday, ministers meeting in Vietnam said that they have agreed ‘core elements’ of the deal after hard lobbying by Australia and Japan.
The leading Pacific Rim nations, including Japan, Australia, Mexico and Malaysia, said they had revived the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal - even though the trade pact was abandoned by U.S. president Donald Trump in one of his first acts in office.
In a joint statement, ministers meeting in Danang, Vietnam agreed on the “core elements” of what was now called the comprehensive and progressive agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
It said that the ministers maintained “the high standards, overall balance and integrity of the TPP while ensuring the commercial and other interests of all participants and preserving our inherent right to regulate, including the flexibility of the parties to set legislative and regulatory priorities.”
Addressing reporters on Saturday, Vietnam’s trade minister, Tran Tuan Anh, said the ministers had “reached an agreement on a number of fundamental parts.”
He added that the ministers had “overcome the hardest part.”
However, it was so far not clear if the countries’ leaders would formally endorse the agreement or when it would be implemented.
TPP took seven years to negotiate and was drafted in part to counter China’s dominance in Asia.
Over the last few months, Japan and Australia had lobbied hard for the agreement.
The agreement aims to eliminate trading barriers and tariffs on industrial and farm products across the 11-nation bloc whose trade totalled $356 billion last year.
After Trump abandoned the agreement two days after being sworn into the presidency, the pact appeared moribund, but the leaders managed to rescue the pact on Saturday.
At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Vietnam, negotiating leaders had agreed to meet on Friday - however, an empty seat reserved for Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, led to accusations that he had reneged.
Later, Canadian trade minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, blamed “a misunderstanding about the schedule” for Trudeau’s absence.
Champagne added that auto sector and cultural protection were areas needing more work.
Canada, the second biggest economy among remaining TPP countries after Japan, had earlier clarified it wanted to ensure an agreement that would protect jobs.
Champagne told reporters in Vietnam late on Friday, “There is a lot of work left to be done but I think we have made good progress today.”
However, Canada’s position has been further complicated by the fact that it is simultaneously renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, the statement issued on Saturday said a “limited set of provisions” from the original deal would be suspended, adding further technical work was needed on four areas that still needed consensus “to prepare finalised text for signature.”
On Friday, in his speech, the U.S. president railed against international trade deals, blaming them for America job losses and accusing Asian countries of ignoring them in “violations, cheating or economic aggression.”
The American President added that the U.S. would no longer “enter into large agreements that tie our hands” but focus on country-to-country agreements.
In contrast, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping spoke directly and stressed on how “openness brings progress.”