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TPP members agree to bolster digital rules, supply chains amid virus

In this Jan. 19, 2019 file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, 3rd from right, and senior officials of the 11 countries participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement are pictured after their photo session for a ministerial meeting in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The 11 members of the trans-Pacific free trade pact agreed Thursday to take the lead in global rule-making for the digital economy and bolster efforts to make resilient supply chains amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

    "We strongly believe that given the current circumstances, it is more important than ever to counter protectionism and reinforce an open, effective, fair, inclusive and rules-based trading system to restore economic growth worldwide," said a statement issued by the member states following an online meeting.

    The delegates agreed to work toward setting up a subsidiary body dedicated to addressing the use of digital technologies, which have been increasingly utilized in the wake of the pandemic.

    "Discussions on rule-making for the digital economy are being held globally and I hope the 11 TPP members will play a central role," Yasutoshi Nishimura, state minister in charge of the TPP, told reporters after taking part in the meeting chaired by Mexico.

    Multilateral regulation of the digital economy has been discussed at the World Trade Organization but a consensus is yet to be reached. Countries remain divided due to differences over consumer privacy protection and restrictions on the transfer of data across borders.

    They also agreed to strengthen supply chains in the region to facilitate the flow of essential goods. The issue has increasingly come into focus as the pandemic has disrupted parts supplies, affecting manufacturing activities.

    "We are committed to ensuring that supply chains remain open and connected so that international markets can continue to function," the statement said.

    The trade pact, officially named the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, covers around 13 percent of the world economy and is designed to cut tariffs on agricultural and industrial products, ease investment restrictions and enhance intellectual property protection.

    It took effect in December 2018 with the 11 members after the United States withdrew from the original TPP in January 2017.

    Seven members -- Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam -- have ratified the pact, while Brunei, Chile, Malaysia and Peru have yet to do so.

    The TPP members said Thursday they "warmly welcome" the interest shown by several economies in joining the pact. Britain, which left the European Union on Jan. 31, and Thailand and have so far expressed interest.

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