Trump's New Trade Rep. Struggles To Push 'Fair Trade'

Members of the TPP trade deal, which does not include China, agreed on the sidelines of the meeting to pursue it, despite Trump's decision to abandon the agreement in favor of bilateral arrangements with Asian nations.

Specifically, the TPP nations said they are looking to address their "concern about protectionism"; meanwhile, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer used APEC to hold one-on-one meetings with nations to form bilateral trade deals.

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) - Pacific Rim trade ministers meeting in Vietnam committed Sunday to move ahead with the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact after the United States pulled out.

However, new U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer said there was no way back and that he believed the USA would make a series of bilateral agreements with countries in the region instead. The volume of trade between the remaining countries has been reduced to barely a quarter of the level it would have had with continued U.S. involvement.

The TPP ministers who met over the weekend asked trade officials to complete a new assessment of the deal ahead of a leaders' meeting in November.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the TPP days after taking office in January, fulfilling one of campaign promises.

The word "fair" has increasingly entered the USA trade lexicon alongside its old mantra of "free" as Trump seeks to do more to enforce or renegotiate trade agreements in the name of protecting American jobs - particularly in manufacturing.

China, putting itself forward as a global free trade champion in light of the US shift, is pushing a free trade agreement to encompass the vast majority of Asian economies.

But the remaining 11 countries are now exploring how to move ahead without the U.S.'s corporation.


International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said concrete measures needed to be put in place to internationalise the MSMEs in the region and to enable them to be linked with the regional and global value chain activities.

One of the biggest challenges is keeping on board Vietnam and Malaysia, who signed up for the deal largely to gain better U.S. market access.

Reviving the TPP, even without the heft of the world's biggest economy, would still provide ballast against China, analyst Alex Capri told AFP.

With the U.S. out, Japan is the largest remaining economy in the TPP.

The China-led 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will meet Monday in Hanoi to further their discussions on a separate deal seen as an alternative to the TPP.

Trump has said that he intends to focus on bilateral trade agreements, rather than large, multi-lateral trade deals. It is expected to be finalized by the end of this year.

That's because Australia already has access to the U.S. under its existing bilateral free trade agreement while a number of other TPP member countries will not have preferential access to the U.S. market.

Australia's Trade Minister Steve Ciobo pushed for the agreement at a meeting to "launch a process to assess options" to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership into force.


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