Vietnam | Reuters – Efforts to revive the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal foundered on Friday when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to show up for a meeting to agree a path forward without the United States.
The lack of a deal on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit underscored the convulsions in global trade policy since U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the TPP early this year in the name of an “America First” approach.
Speaking ahead of the APEC summit, Trump said he only wanted bilateral trade deals in Asia – and deals in which the United States was not at a disadvantage.
It was left to President Xi Jinping of China to champion a multilateralist vision of trade with a speech in the Vietnamese resort city of Danang that described globalisation as an irreversible trend.
It was partly to counter China’s growing dominance in Asia that Japan had been lobbying hard for the TPP pact, which aims to eliminate tariffs on industrial and farm products across an 11-nation bloc whose trade totalled $356 billion last year.
Japan said ministers from the 11 remaining countries reached broad agreement to push ahead with it on Thursday, though Canada had said that was not true.
The leaders of 10 of the countries arrived for a meeting on Friday, but officials said Trudeau did not.
“The Canadian side said today they are not yet at the stage where its leader can confirm the agreement reached among ministers,” Japanese Prime Minister Shizo Abe told reporters, adding that all the other leaders had agreed.
Canadian officials said the TPP was not dead and they were still at the table in Danang. They say Canada cannot be rushed into an agreement if it isn’t beneficial enough for Canadian jobs.
“If we need to keep working at other tables, so be it. Let’s get it right,” said one Canadian official.
Canada’s position is complicated by renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the Trump administration.
An agreement to push forward TPP would have been a boost for the principle of multilateral trade deals as opposed to the Trump approach.
Buffeted by Trump
APEC, whose leaders hold their full summit on Saturday, has itself been buffeted by the changes under Trump.
Talks between trade and foreign ministers from the group failed to reach agreement on their usual joint statement in the face of U.S. demands to remove language about supporting free trade and fighting protectionism.
“I see a tremendous shift,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said at the summit. “I see the rise of anti-globalisation, the rise of more inward-looking (policies), which ironically is against the whole philosophy of setting up of APEC.”
Trump set out a strong message which made clear there was no turning back – particularly in a region which he believes is taking U.S. jobs by running trade surpluses with the United States.
“We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” Trump said. “I am always going to put America first, the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first.”
He expressed a willingness to do bilateral deals in the region on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit, while saying the United States had suffered from World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules by obeying them while others did not.
“It signalled clearly a move away from the rules-based multilateral system that the U.S. has actually done very well under,” James Fatheree of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business lobby group told Reuters. “We have done well in helping lead the system.”
President Xi made clear China’s aspiration to take that leadership role in a speech that immediately followed Trump’s.
“Should we steer economic globalisation, or should we dither and stall in the face of challenge? Should we jointly advance regional cooperation or should we go our separate ways?” Xi asked. “Openness brings progress, while self-seclusion leaves one behind.”
– Reporting by Mai Nguyen, Matthew Tostevin, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Michael Martina, A. Ananthalakshmi, Steve Holland.