The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade deal, once shaken by the withdrawal of the United States, will likely escape the worst-case scenario of being left in limbo.
Cabinet ministers from 11 TPP member countries, other than the United States, have met and agreed in principle on a new pact.
Following a final agreement to come, the deal is expected to take effect when six, or a majority, of its member countries have finished domestic procedures, such as parliamentary ratifications.
It is regrettable that Canada’s last-minute objection prevented the agreement from being announced on the national leaders’ level. There should be continued efforts to allow Canada to join.
The 11 countries decided to freeze some of the provisions on rules, which had been included at the insistence of the United States, until Washington returns to the pact. They have since been discussing which rules to suspend.
While they have agreed to freeze 20 clauses, including one on the protection period for pharmaceutical data, there will be further discussions, including on a provision for banning special treatment of state-owned enterprises.
The nations should rush to work on the matter.
Even without the United States, the 11 countries still account for about 13 percent of the global gross domestic product. The latest agreement has no small significance at a time when protectionist trends are mounting in various parts of the world.
A major question lies in how to bring the United States back into the deal.
President Donald Trump, who touts an “America First” policy and prefers bilateral talks that allow U.S. national interests to be reflected more easily, is not likely to change his stance any time soon.
During a speech on Nov. 10, Trump said his country will not join multilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) and said, “I will make bilateral trade agreements with any Indo-Pacific nation … that will abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade.”
He will likely be calling on Japan for one-on-one talks in due course.
Bilateral pacts, however, are not sufficient for addressing the trend of globalization, in which people, goods, funds and information actively come and go.
Multilateral frameworks are more reasonable not only for spreading new rules, such as those on e-commerce, but also for U.S. interests. It is up to the role of Japan to keep advocating that cause.
As negotiations remain stalled at the World Trade Organization, the role of leading players in trade liberalization has shifted to the so-called “mega-FTAs,” such as the TPP. Japan recently reached a basic agreement with the European Union on concluding an economic partnership pact.
The latest agreement on the TPP, which came on the heels of the Japan-EU agreement, should be a catalyst for accelerating talks on the planned Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
The RCEP, which has enlisted the participation of China, South Korea, ASEAN nations and India, is expected to create a vast free trade zone when it comes into existence.
We wonder if the United States would still opt to stay out of multilateral frameworks when that happens.
Persistently expanding circles of liberalization represents the only way for countering protectionism.