The Japanese government is looking to implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement among 11 remaining signatories after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the sweeping treaty earlier this year.
Japan had been cautious about moving ahead with the TPP without the U.S., but changed its position as it became clear the U.S. was unlikely to ever return to the fold. The shift to prioritizing implementation of the multilateral deal can also be seen as a pushback against U.S. pressure to negotiate a bilateral trade pact.
The TPP was signed by 12 nations in February last year. However, Trump announced shortly after his January inauguration that he would take the U.S. out of the treaty, putting the pact's future in doubt. The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had previously indicated it was waiting for the U.S. to return. However, during economic talks with Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso on April 18, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence declared that "the TPP is a thing of the past for the United States of America," and made a clear push for a bilateral Japan-U.S. trade deal.
Japanese government figures are deeply worried that the U.S. would use bilateral trade negotiations to push for even greater access to Japan's agricultural sector than Tokyo has already accepted under the TPP. With the Pence visit, the Japanese government confirmed that a U.S. return to the TPP was unlikely in the extreme. This led to the strategic pivot to pushing for implementation of the treaty by the remaining 11 signatories while waiting for the U.S. to reconsider. At the same time, Japan currently plans to avoid bilateral trade talks with the U.S.
The Japanese government also hopes that, should a USA-less TPP go into effect, the reduced import tariffs on member nation products such as Australian beef would put American imports at such a disadvantage that U.S. exporters would demand their country join the TPP after all.
However, enthusiasm for an 11-nation TPP is muted in many signatory countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia, which had joined the pact with high hopes for improved access to the U.S. market. Meanwhile, Canada and Mexico have indicated they will put top priority on renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) being demanded by the Trump administration.
To put the TPP into effect, all the remaining signatories will need to agree to proceed. However, with little consensus among the 11 nations, "it will not be easy to wrap up fresh negotiations," a source close to Japan's TPP negotiating team said.