TORONTO -- Remaining signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership launched their first full-fledged negotiations Tuesday afternoon on a so-called TPP 11 trade pact without American participation as new senior partner Japan hoped for an agreement this year.
America was the largest TPP economy but had not ratified the pact before President Donald Trump moved to withdraw after taking office in January. The torch thus passed to Japan, whose proposal has drawn varying levels of enthusiasm from the 10 other countries.
The chief Japanese negotiator for the TPP, Keiichi Katakami, met Monday with counterparts from Australia, New Zealand and Canada to tell them that Japan would spearhead the argument for a deal without the U.S.
While Canada is hosting the talks, Japan -- which now accounts for nearly half the total gross domestic product of all members -- is positioned to take the lead. Together with Australia and New Zealand, the other leading proponents of an 11-way pact, it aims to bring the remaining countries on board quickly and with no changes to stipulations previously agreed on. Tokyo sees November's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference as a target date.
Canada and Mexico remain impassive, watching their behavior toward the U.S. leading up to renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but are expected to be receptive to an 11-nation TPP. Chile, which has not entered into free trade agreements with many Asian countries, may also fall into step.
But Vietnam is prepared to prioritize FTA negotiations with America to boost its textile exports to that country. A Japanese official said the Vietnamese will likely approach the talks with a firm stance -- a possibility of which Australia and New Zealand have also been wary in under-the-table negotiations with them.