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Japan gears up for early implementation of TPP without U.S.

Japan's TPP minister Nobuteru Ishihara (Mainichi)

HANOI (Kyodo) -- Japan stepped up its efforts Saturday to implement the originally 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership deal without the United States, in an attempt to activate "high-level" rules on trade in the region as soon as possible.

    Japan's TPP minister Nobuteru Ishihara, who is scheduled to participate in the ministerial gathering of the 11 signatories in Hanoi on Sunday, held a series of bilateral meetings, such as those with Australian and Canadian trade ministers.

    During his trip to Vietnam, Ishihara has explained to his counterparts about Japan's intention to create a certain consensus later this year with the other 10 TPP members on how to keep the free trade pact alive as Washington withdrew from it earlier this year.

    "I told other ministers that (the TPP) is both strategically and economically crucial and it is important for the 11 countries to issue a unified message" toward the early enactment of the trade deal, Ishihara told reporters.

    "We are sharing a view that tomorrow's meeting is extremely significant to gauge the fate of the TPP," Ishihara added.

    On Friday, Ishihara held talks with Vietnamese, Peruvian and Mexican trade ministers.

    Ministers from the 11 members are set to hold a one-day meeting, co-chaired by Vietnam and New Zealand, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering.

    Australian trade minister Steve Ciobo separately told journalists Saturday that the TPP among the 11 nations "can promote trade" and it is "good" for them, adding, "I am looking forward to a constructive fruitful conversation."

    Australia and New Zealand have aligned with Japan, but Vietnam and Malaysia have indicated they disagree with Tokyo's proposal as they had hoped to take advantage of increased trade with the United States in order to expand their economies.

    Mexico and Canada are believed to be reluctant to irritate U.S. President Donald Trump by joining the 11-party TPP, as they have been urged by Washington to renegotiate the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is willing to put the TPP into force, with Japan trying to take the lead in setting up free trade rules in the Asia-Pacific region in the wake of China's rising assertiveness. Beijing is not a signatory to the TPP.

    Abe has also pledged to boost free trade as a key to growth under his "Abenomics" policy mix.

    The TPP was signed in February 2016 by the 12 countries of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam -- covering around 40 percent of the global economy.

    The United States withdrew from the deal in January, immediately after the inauguration of Trump, who had promised to pull the United States out of what he called a "job-killing" free trade agreement during the election campaign.

    Under current rules, the TPP requires ratification by nations accounting for 85 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the 12 countries. The pact was therefore effectively dead following the withdrawal of the United States, as the nation represents over 60 percent of the trade bloc's GDP.

    So far, Japan and New Zealand have ratified the TPP. Japan is aiming to reach a certain conclusion on the deal without the United States by November, when the APEC summit will be held in Vietnam.

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