Remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement are scheduled to meet this weekend in Vietnam in an effort to move ahead with the deal despite the withdrawal of the United States.
The meeting is on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC, summit of trade ministers, the biggest trade gathering since U.S. President Donald Trump took office.
The 11 counties remaining in the deal after the U.S. pulled out, the so-called TPP-11 nations, were planning a statement of commitment to the pact, sources closes to the discussions told Reuters.
"There will be two main points: 1. To aim for an early entry into force of the TPP-11, 2. To bear in mind an environment where a signatory country can return," one source close to the discussions said.
To take effect, the TPP requires ratification by at least six nations accounting for 85 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the 12 countries by February 2018. The deal was therefore effectively dead following the withdrawal of the United States, which accounts for over 60 percent of the trade bloc’s GDP.
So far, only Japan and New Zealand have ratified the pact that is due to take effect next year.
Both of them still want to persist with the much more comprehensive TPP agreement even without the U.S., but some other countries are reluctant to implement the deal, arguing that it would do little to benefit their economies without the world’s largest economy.
"I don’t think we should expect any big decision from that ministerial meeting, but certainly I would hope for a very clear direction as far as the process is concerned," New Zealand’s Trade Minister McClay told Reuters.
Malaysian Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed said some renegotiation would be needed for the deal to proceed without the United States. Given Trump’s recent shift of his positions on other matters, Mustapa said there was optimism the United States would return to the deal.
"There has been less rhetoric and a more realistic approach," he said to Reuters.
For Washington, the current priority is to renegotiate the existing North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, with Canada and Mexico.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent a letter to U.S. congressional leaders on Thursday, notifying them of the Trump administration’s intent to renegotiate and "modernize" the 23-year-old trade pact.
The letter triggered a 90-day consultation period and formal talks with Canada and Mexico will begin no early than Aug. 16.
In Hanoi, Lighthizer is also due to hold two-way meetings to start making official contact with key trade officials.
Nearly all the other 20 members of APEC had requested bilateral meetings, including China, Japan and South Korea, U.S. officials said.