TOKYO -- Japan wants to convince 10 other Pacific Rim countries to enter into the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal without the U.S., Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said on Thursday.
In a reversal of earlier reticence about a TPP minus the U.S., Japan now intends to be a ringleader in getting Australia, Canada, Mexico and seven other countries to swiftly agree to such an arrangement, perhaps by the end of the year.
An agreement "could be reached quickly," Aso, who is also finance minister, said in an interview. Twelve Pacific Rim nations, including the U.S., in early 2016 finalized five years of negotiations and signed the TPP. However, only Japan has ratified the deal, and the U.S. pulled out after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president. In fact, withdrawing from the pact was one of Trump's first acts as president.
Any agreement for the 11 other nations to start anew without the U.S. would almost certainly lead to lengthy negotiations. "There will be no renegotiation on the TPP's current framework," Aso said.
Aso didn't elaborate on how Japan intends to line up support from the rest of the TPP members. Some signatories, such as Vietnam, think the TPP is not attractive without tariff-free access to the massive U.S. market.
The deputy prime minister voiced confidence about the U.S. eventually returning to the TPP, even though the Trump administration has laid out a plan to pursue bilateral trade deals.
Japan and the U.S. just had a first round of economic talks aimed at making up for the loss caused by the U.S. withdrawal from the TPP.
"The U.S. will soon realize that it could gain much less from a bilateral FTA with Japan than under the TPP," Aso said. Under the TPP, for instance, the U.S. agreed to eliminate its 2.5% tariff on imported automobiles -- a concession that the Trump administration finds difficult to swallow.
As a result, the U.S. is likely to lose concessions that Japan made in agreeing to the TPP.
That's not all. Aso pointed out that U.S. beef could lose out to its Australian rivals in Japan if a rejigged TPP is agreed to. His comment seemed to be pointed at Washington.
While Aso voiced optimism about the prospects of quickly agreeing to an 11-nation TPP, he added that all bets will be off if tensions flare up on the Korean Peninsula.
"Tensions won't go down" as long as Trump and Kim Jong Un are in power, he said.