January 30, 2018 7:41 am JST

Japan's Abe plays down chances of renegotiating TPP for Trump

11-nation deal reached without US is as delicate as 'glass,' prime minister says

Nikkei staff writers

Abe even tried to sell Trump on the TPP over golf, the prime minister told Japanese lawmakers Monday.

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump's apparent newfound openness to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade and investment pact Monday, but stopped short of promising a new deal.

Abe told Japan's lower house budget committee Monday that reworking the Pacific trade deal at this point would be "extremely difficult," likening the existing agreement to a delicate piece of glass artwork.

Last Thursday, Trump told U.S. broadcaster CNBC that "I would do TPP if we were able to make a substantially better deal" -- a remark that seemingly came out of nowhere.

His predecessor Barack Obama led the efforts to craft the original 12-member TPP, whose final agreement was signed in 2016 but never entered into force. Trump opposed the deal while campaigning for president and promptly pulled the U.S. out when he took office in January last year. The remaining 11 members reached a broad agreement in November to continue without the U.S., which involved freezing some provisions of the original deal. Japan aims to sign the revised TPP 11 on schedule in March.

Member nations are prepared to work toward bringing the U.S. back into the fold eventually, but any changes to the original 12-member deal could open the floodgates to demands from other countries, which include Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Members are thus unwilling to renegotiate.

"There hasn't been a single word of communication regarding specific issues," Abe told legislators when asked about the possibility of renegotiating the TPP to bring the U.S. back in. "We need to first hear what the American side is thinking."

Abe also said he has been selling Trump on the TPP. "I've persistently brought up the significance of the TPP since [a meeting at] Trump Tower before he became president, and I told him over golf that the U.S. should be in the TPP," said the prime minister.

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