The 11 remaining members of the largest free-trade pact on the planet have agreed to a deal in Japan.
Japanese economic minister Toshimitsu Motegi says the outstanding issues in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) have been resolved and the group of 11 countries expect to hold a signing ceremony in Chile in March.
Over the past two days in Tokyo, senior government officials from Singapore, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam met to agree on the terms of the deal.
In November at the Vietnam Apec meeting, Canada infamously “screwed everybody,” according to an unnamed official, when Ottawa’s trade officials decided to reopen positions on items such as cultural expectations that favour domestic media content and rules of origin for automobiles.
Those fresh obstacles were on top of 22 other provisions (including one on state-run companies opposed by Malaysia) that were successfully suspended after the US backed out of the deal in 2017.
Singapore-based Asia Trade Centre director Deborah Elms says other than Canada, the 10 other nations had the deal “locked up” in November.
“Canada was wavering because [Canada prime minister Justin] Trudeau has never been convinced that CPTPP matters, nor is he certain this is the best vehicle for Canada’s engagement in Asia. It’s not clear what, exactly, he doesn’t like, which makes it hard to figure out what would satisfy him.
“But, as it turns out, Canada was more committed than I thought. They managed to get the whole deal fixed up today,” she says.
The new deal includes unspecified bilateral agreements to assuage Canada’s concerns. Canada says it will send separate side letters with other members about its concerns at the time of the signing, Mr Motegi says. The precise content of the letters will not be revealed until then.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau says: "Today is a great day for Canada but it is also a great day for progressive trade around the world.”
In a statement following the two-day meeting, Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry says the outcome reaffirms the “countries’ collective commitment toward greater trade liberalisation and regional integration.”
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said at the close of the November meeting that the deal was much “better” than the original Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Trade minister David Parker is in Europe and not available for comment.
National has indicated it will support the deal, which will soon move to a vote in Parliament before starting the process of ratification. At least six nations of the 11 need to ratify the deal for it to come into effect.
The Singapore ministry says the agreement is the “key to unlocking the benefits of the original TPP” and that other “willing and like-minded economies” can join it in the future.
Mr Motegi says the new agreement would be the “engine to overcome protectionism” and that Japan plans to explain the deal to the United States and urge Washington to consider participating.
Ms Elms says the participants are now “waiting until the ministers gather in Chile in March for the signing ceremony.”
“Then we are ready for entry into force and the benefits to start happening.”
Under the CPTPP, companies from member countries will have access to a market of 500 million people, with an estimated combined GDP of $US10 trillion ($13.61 trillion).
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