New U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer said there was no way back to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for America.
At an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting today, the U.S. ruled out returning to the TPP trade deal and added that it only wanted bilateral agreements in Asia. The meeting, which was held in Hanoi, Vietnam, was the biggest global trade gathering since U.S. President Donald Trump spoke of his "America First" trade policy – designed to protect American jobs.
Trump withdrew from the TPP in one of his first acts in office. But the remaining 11 countries are currently exploring how to move ahead without the U.S.'s corporation. "TPP-11 can make their own decisions and the United States makes its decision, but we expect to stay engaged and I believe at some point there will be a series of bilateral agreements with partners in this part of the world," Lighthizer told a news conference.
Although the TPP members kept the trade agreement alive, they fell short of a commitment to quickly move ahead with a strategy to temper China's influence. "Eleven countries have shown a lot of unity and a desire to move through some of the equations that will be required to look to put the agreement into force," New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay, who led the discussions, told Reuters.
One major challenge being faced by the TPP-11 is keeping Vietnam and Malaysia on board. Both countries had signed the trade deal in a bid to get better market access to the U.S. But, now that the U.S. has backed out they want to renegotiate. The total trade among the remaining countries is approximately a quarter of what it would be had the United States not opt out.
According to McClay, officials from TPP countries will next meet in Japan in July.
During the meeting, Lighthizer approached key partners for future bilateral deals. "Our view is that we want free trade, we want fair trade, we want a system that leads to greater market efficiency throughout the world," he said.
China, in light of the U.S. shift, is pushing a free trade agreement – Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – to encompass the vast majority of Asian economies. The trade deal will cover only Asian countries without being as exhaustive as the TPP.