Turnbull pushes TPP as Japan calls it 'meaningless' without the US

Japan has called the TPP 'meaningless' without US involvement amid its attempts to persuade Trump, with Turnbull saying the trade deal should be pushed through without American participation.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Japanese government has said that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is "meaningless" without the United States taking part, despite statements by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to the contrary.

"The TPP is meaningless without the US, because it would lose the fundamental balance of benefits," Japanese government spokesperson Koichi Hagiuda said.

New US President Donald Trump formally withdrew from the TPP on Monday, after the White House said in a statement over the weekend that he would use one of his first Executive Orders to back out of the trade deal.

Despite its statements, the Japanese government -- the only TPP signatory to have ratified the trade agreement thus far -- said it will attempt to convince the Trump administration of the advantages of multilateral trade agreements such as the TPP.

"Trump is aware of the importance of free and fair trade. We want to help him understand the strategic and economic merits of the TPP," Hagiuda said.

Turnbull, however, has been arguing that the TPP can still be salvaged by its other signatories, conceding that Australian jobs rely on the TPP far more than American jobs do.

Turnbull added that the US could even possibly change its policy "over time" given Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is a TPP advocate.

"The Trans-Pacific Partnership is all about jobs for Australia. Let's be quite clear about this. We are a trading-exporting nation. We are a trading nation. Trade is one and a half times as big a share of our economy as it is of the United States. What that means is that there is a bigger proportion of Australians whose jobs depend on exports than there is of Americans, so trade is critical to us," the prime minister said during a doorstop on Tuesday.

"There is also the opportunity for the TPP to proceed without the United States, and I've had active discussions with other leaders as recently as last night with [Japanese] Prime Minister Abe about that. We believe in trade."

Turnbull also suggested that in addition to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, China also has the potential to join the TPP.

"We are constantly working to open the doors of new markets and open wider the doors of existing markets for Australian exporters because that is where the jobs are to be found ... What we need is bigger and better market opportunities, and we are determined to make them available and we have done that."

Turnbull said Australia already has good access to the American market through the Australian-American Free Trade Agreement, but the TPP should not be abandoned, as suggested by the opposition party, because it opens up Australian access to Mexico and Japan and provides common standards that have previously been a barrier to trade throughout the Pacific Rim.

"It is a very much trade-enhancing agreement; it will enable those economies to engage and to integrate more. It will be better for Australian investment abroad, it will be better for Australian exports, particularly of services as opposed to physical goods," Turnbull said.

"Losing the United States from the TPP is a big loss, there is no question about that. But we are not about to walk away from our commitment to Australian jobs."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten accused the prime minister of being in "la la land", saying the TPP has been dead ever since the surprise election of Trump in November.

"There is no doubt that when America voted for Donald Trump, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was dead. But Mr Turnbull instead has pinned all of his hopes on a trade treaty, including the United States, which Donald Trump said he would never sign," Shorten said on Tuesday.

"Of course we need to salvage our trade agreements, and I do think it is important to pursue trade arrangements with nations. Many of the nations who were in the Trans-Pacific Partnership have already got agreements with us. What's important is to pursue multilateral trade agreements which create Australian jobs."

In turn, the prime minister accused Shorten of being, like Trump, on the "protectionist bandwagon".

"This is a blast right back into the 1950s," Turnbull commented. "He is not yesterday's man; he is last century's man."

The US' formal withdrawal from the TPP followed a formal statement issued over the weekend, wherein the White House said the president has decided to base its foreign policy on an "America first" attitude that involves returning "millions of jobs to America's shores" by backing out of multilateral trade agreements such as the TPP.

"The president understands how critical it is to put American workers and businesses first when it comes to trade. With tough and fair agreements, international trade can be used to grow our economy ... this strategy starts by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and making certain that any new trade deals are in the interests of American workers," the statement said.

"In addition to rejecting and reworking failed trade deals, the United States will crack down on those nations that violate trade agreements and harm American workers in the process ... By fighting for fair but tough trade deals, we can bring jobs back to America's shores, increase wages, and support US manufacturing."

The withdrawal occurred in spite of warnings from former US Trade Representative Michael Froman earlier this month that Trump risks "abdicating" trade leadership in the Asia-Pacific region by refusing to ratify the TPP, as it would create an opportunity for China to step in with its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal.

This followed repeated warnings to Congress by former US President Barack Obama's administration prior to Trump's election that not approving the TPP would risk trade rival China pushing through RCEP, which would put millions of jobs across the US at risk.

However, Obama's administration suspended its efforts to get the agreement through Congress following the surprise election of Trump in November, who called the TPP a "disaster" during his election campaign and said it would threaten American jobs by introducing lower-wage competition.

The TPP, signed by all 12 member states in February 2016, was designed to regulate trade between the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, and Chile.

Australia's Treaties Committee in November recommended that the federal government still ratify the TPP in spite of the likelihood that it would be abandoned by the US, although it said work needs to be done to convince an increasingly "nationalist and isolationist" public of this.

With AAP

Editorial standards