Disagreements surface over China-backed trade deal

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24 May, 2017

USA officials attending the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Hanoi, Vietnam over the weekend, opposed language that called for all member-countries to "fight against all forms of protectionism", according to Reuters.

New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay, who chaired the meeting in Vietnam, left open the possibility of the U.S. rejoining the TPP despite Trump saying he prefers bilateral free trade deals.

USA trade representative Robert Lighthizer disagreed with Asian and Pacific countries over protectionism during his first overseas trip as the nation's top diplomat on trade policy Sunday.

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.

"In the context that protectionism is emerging in a number of major economies in the world, we believe that the conclusion of the RCEP agreement negotiation will convey a clear and consistent message of the opening up and economic integration enhancing policy of the countries in the region", he said.

"We are making progress but there is still a long way to go", New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay told Reuters.

This comes after Trump signed an executive order in January withdrawing the US from the trade agreement.

The word "fair" has increasingly entered the US 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.

The RCEP and TPP trade deals are not mutually exclusive, and some nations would be members of both.

Mr Seko said his meeting with Mr Lighthizer built on an understanding reached between Mr Trump and Mr Abe in their meeting in February to focus on one-on-one trade talks. We are still an enormous exporter to this area [and] we are enormous importer from this area.

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"Ministers and vice ministers from Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam met today to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership", they said in a joint statement.

The minister said this would be an open agreement that would enable other countries to participate at appropriate times and under conditions that can preserve the high standards of the TPP, including the return of the United States.

Instead, there was one statement from the Vietnamese chairman of the talks, Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh, and a separate joint "Actions Statement".

China, in light of the USA shift, is pushing a free trade agreement - Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership - to encompass the vast majority of Asian economies.

In Malaysia, more opportunities for SMEs to enter the global e-commerce market are expected to be created through the investment by AliBaba in Malaysia's Digital Free Trade Zone, he said.

He pointed out that Apec economies continued to remain resilient.

"I look forward to working with our trade partners to expand USA export market access and address persistent unfair trade practices", Mr Lighthizer said.

The ministers also agreed to study the creation of new procedures that would enable Washington to rejoin the free trade pact, saying in the statement that the options to be assessed include "how to facilitate membership for the original signatories. But it's going to take a lot of hard work to get it done by the end of the year".

Nearly all the other 20 members of APEC had requested bilateral meetings, United States officials said.


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