April 20, 2017 5:00 am JST

Australia wants TPP despite US exit: trade minister

Canberra sees benefits for smaller businesses, easier trade and investment

SHIGERU SENO, Nikkei senior staff writer

Ministers from TPP signatories gather in Chile in March for their first meeting since Washington's announcement of its withdrawal from the trade pact.

TOKYO -- Australia is eager to put the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact into effect even without the U.S., Steven Ciobo, the country's minister for trade, tourism and investment, told The Nikkei here on Wednesday.

In light of U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the TPP, the deal's remaining signatories are exploring various options for the future. Australia strongly supports the idea of cutting the U.S. out and moving forward with an 11-member version of the agreement, which has been dubbed TPP 11.

"Australia's view is that TPP 11 is good, and other countries share similar views," Ciobo said. "Ultimately, Japan seems to be willing to leave the door open for TPP 11."

The potential framework means "common standards for 11 countries" and will be particularly beneficial for small and midsize enterprises, Ciobo said. He stressed that such an agreement would reduce barriers, facilitating trade and investment and eventually leading to economic growth and new jobs. It would also be a step forward for promoting free trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

Ciobo expressed hope that the 11 members would agree to the proposal at a ministerial meeting in Vietnam in late May, but said it was more important for them to consider the option. He added that he was disappointed by the U.S. decision to exit the TPP.

The minister also touched on the proposed 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which would include non-TPP members like South Korea and India. When asked whether speed or quality was more important in the ongoing negotiations for the China-led deal, he said the latter.

Australia is looking for a highly ambitious, "good-quality agreement," according Ciobo.

Regarding relations with America, Ciobo said he and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross reflected on their countries' strong investment ties as well as economic and geopolitical challenges during a meeting in Tokyo on Monday. As for the possibility of renegotiating the two countries' free-trade agreement, he said that was a question for the U.S.

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