US president Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has prompted other member countries to seek ways to salvage the trade pact.
Leaders of some of the 11 other nations involved in the initiative said they hope to push ahead with the agreement in some form, with or without the US.
Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said he had discussed the pact’s future recently with the prime ministers of Japan, Singapore and New Zealand, all TPP members, and believed the pact could survive without the US.
“Losing the United States from the TPP is a big loss, there is no question about that,” Mr Turnbull told reporters. “But we are not about to walk away from our commitment to Australian jobs.”
Mr Trump has said he favours one-on-one agreements with other nations rather than multinational pacts like the TPP, which would have included markets comprising 40% of world GDP and was eventually meant to be the foundation for a wider pan-Pacific trading bloc.
As expected, the new president officially abandoned the trade deal in one of his first acts after taking office, as promised.
Advocates of the TPP said it would set a “gold standard” for modern trade rules, with stringent requirements for intellectual property, labour and environmental protections.
A key goal was to lead in shaping trade rules for this century, and also to counter the growing influence of China, which is not part of the pact.
Critics have said the TPP would put corporate interests ahead of public and national sovereign interests.
The US about-face on the deal is a setback for leaders of other TPP countries who invested political capital in fighting to get it ratified.
That includes Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who told MPs during a parliamentary debate that he hoped to gain Mr Trump’s “understanding” on the TPP’s importance. Mr Abe has said he hopes to meet the American leader as soon as possible.
Japan completed the TPP ratification process last week, well aware that Mr Trump planned to drop out. Mr Abe said its goals were still important for Japan and the TPP could be a model for trade deals with other nations, including those in Europe.
The remaining 11 TPP members will meet to discuss the next steps, said Malaysian Second Trade Minister Ong Ka Chuan.
He said: “Twelve countries signed the (TPP), but now one wants out. The other 11 can continue by making change to the clauses. There are many possibilities that these 11 countries can still proceed with.”
Other TPP members are Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Vietnam and Brunei.
Mr Turnbull said that in theory China could join the pact following the US departure, although this would require a revamp of the deal. In its current form, the TPP can only take effect after it is ratified by six countries that account for 85% of its members’ combined gross domestic product. The US made up 60% of the TPP’s combined GDP, so it could not be implemented as it stands now.
Though he did not suggest Mr Trump himself would reverse his position, Mr Turnbull did say that the US might, over time.
New Zealand prime minister Bill English said he agrees with his predecessor John Key’s view that the US risks ceding some influence to China in the Pacific without the TPP.
Whatever the deal’s fate, the region shows no sign of retreating from the market-opening trend that helped transform its many developing nations into a relatively stable zone of affluent, middle-income economies.