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International relations

TPP postpones talks on Thailand's entry amid political flux

Coronavirus causes four member nations to delay ratifying trade agreement

A durian shop at a wholesale market outside of Bangkok: The Thai government has shuffled its cabinet, and a key proponent of joining the pact resigned last month.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Thursday postponed discussions over Thailand joining the trade bloc due to the shifting political situation in the Southeast Asian country.

Ministers from the 11-member TPP had planned to consider Thailand's entry as the group looks to expand. Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan's point man on the trade pact, expressed plans to support Thailand and Great Britain's entry in the trade pact.

"I intend to provide [both nations] with the necessary information," said Nishimura. The TPP ministers released a statement saying they welcome the interest of other countries to join the bloc.

Thailand's entry into the TPP was expected to be a topic of discussion in the meeting, which was held via videoconference. But deliberations on the Thai side faced delays amid political uncertainties. Former Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, a proponent of the TPP, resigned last month amid political pressure from his detractors, along with other economic ministers.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's government announced a new economic team Thursday as part of a cabinet reshuffle. In addition, a parliamentary committee tasked with studying the TPP said it needs more time to weigh the benefits of joining the bloc, and the timeline conflicted with the TPP ministers' meeting.

TPP members Chile, Brunei, Malaysia and Peru have hit delays in ratifying the trade agreement as those governments prioritize their response to the coronavirus. The ministers' joint statement praised the four nation's efforts toward a timely ratification.

Four out of 11 members of the TPP have yet to ratify the multilateral trade agreement: (Photo by Wataru Ito)

The ministers agreed to set up a new subsidiary body dedicated to the digital economy. The body will explore the application of TPP rules concerning data transfer and other digital trades.

Digital technology now plays a more significant role in society amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the statement from the meeting reads.

Concerning supply chains, members agreed to work toward avoiding unjustified trade restrictions, according to the statement. Participating nations will strengthen cooperation in part through exchange of opinions among experts.

In Japan's case, the country entered into a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S. although Tokyo has kept in place safeguards against beef and other imports. When asked about the present situation, Nishimura reiterated that the matter will be discussed "in due time."

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