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11 countries sign TPP without US as Trump announces steel tariffs

From left, Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang, New Zealand Trade Minister David Parker, General Secretary Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia Y.bhg. Datuk J. Jayasiri, Canada's Minister of International Trade Francois-Philippe Champagne, Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Steven Ciobo, Chile's Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz, Brunei's Foreign Minister Haji Erawan bin Pehin Yusof, Japan's Trans-Pacific Partnership minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Secretary of Economy of Mexico Idelfonso Guajardo, Peru's Trade Minister Eduardo Ferreyros and Vietnamese Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh, poses for a picture after the signing ceremony of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, CP TPP, in Santiago, Chile, on March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

SANTIAGO (Kyodo) -- The 11 countries remaining in the Trans-Pacific Partnership signed on Thursday the revised pact without the United States to show their commitment to free trade, just hours before U.S. President Donald Trump initiated steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

    The ministers of the Asia-Pacific countries said in the Chilean capital Santiago they will aim to put the pact, renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, into force earlier than their initial target of early 2019. The newly crafted agreement covers 13 percent of the world's gross domestic product.

    Once the deal is implemented, they will look to expand the framework to include other economies, as some countries have shown interest in joining the treaty that provides "a platform that promotes high standards for broader economic integration in the future," their joint statement said.

    "The agreement demonstrates our collective commitment to an effective, rules-based and transparent trading system which is open to all economies willing to accept these principles," it said.

    Colombia and Thailand are among countries that are interested in participating in the framework, while the 11 states are closely gauging Trump's position after he suggested a possible return to the pact in Davos, Switzerland, in January, if the United States could strike a "substantially better deal."

    The return of the world's biggest economy would mean the pact covers nearly 40 percent of global economic output and would add a significant security aspect to the deal, countering China's rising clout in the Asia-Pacific region.

    Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan's minister in charge of the TPP, told a news conference he wants the United States to rejoin the pact in its current form without revamping it. "It is extremely difficult to have renegotiations" only on some parts of the pact, he said.

    A few hours after the 11 countries inked the CPTPP in Santiago, Trump signed off on new tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent on steel and aluminum imports, respectively. Canada and Mexico are exempted from the controversial measure that will go into effect on Friday next week.

    The decision has raised fears of a global trade war and possible stall in world economic growth, with U.S. trading partners such as China and the European Union suggesting that they may take retaliatory measures.

    The CPTPP, also known as TPP 11, will go into effect 60 days after at least six countries complete domestic approval procedures. The Japanese government is set to present related bills to the ongoing Diet session later this month.

    The 11 TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

    Touted as a "21st century" free trade initiative, the CPTPP not only removes tariffs and barriers to trade but also covers environmental protection and labor rights.

    The Japanese government will remove tariffs on some 95 percent of farm, industrial and other imported products in value terms under the pact.

    Japan has led the way in working out the revised version of the deal and finalizing negotiations in January this year after the U.S. pullout of the trade accord, which was initially championed by Trump's predecessor President Barack Obama.

    The TPP 11 has eased conditions to put the deal into force. The original deal, signed by 12 countries including the United States in February 2016, could not have been implemented without the United States as it required six countries, accounting for at least 85 percent of the original 12 signatories' combined GDP, to complete domestic procedures to bring it into force.

    The United States alone represented more than 60 percent of total GDP.

    Under the CPTPP, the application of 22 provisions in the original pact, such as on intellectual property that was included at the persistent request of the United States, will be suspended until such time as Washington returns to the deal.

    Japanese officials said that by not changing agreements on countries' commitments to market access, the CPTPP has maintained the high-level standards of trade and investment rules.


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