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New Zealand leads the push to keep the TPP alive

Wellington, Tokyo see no need to change terms after US withdrawal

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English

TOKYO New Zealand is keen to press ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership and avoid any major reworking resulting from the U.S. departure, both to avoid a lengthy renegotiation process and to leave the door open in case Washington decides to return, Prime Minister Bill English said.

The U.S. withdrew from the TPP in January, sounding the death knell for the original 12-member agreement. But New Zealand and Japan are leading the way for a so-called TPP 11 to ensure quality trade standards for the Asia-Pacific region even without American involvement, English told The Nikkei in an interview on May 17. He was in Tokyo for talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

New Zealand, one of the four members of the original TPP, has taken "an active role in talking to the other 10 countries to test their will and interest in moving forward with TPP 11" since the U.S. pulled out, English said. The country is prepared to accept the "terms of the agreement as they were negotiated so we can move forward," he pledged. The original document and various addenda amount to 1,500 pages or so, and took five and a half years to negotiate. Attempting to rebuild the agreement from scratch would bring progress to a standstill.

"Every country has got some issues where it would like to renegotiate, and so we don't believe it's a good path forward," he said. Ideally, the parties would make "only the technical changes necessary to allow [for] the fact that the U.S. isn't part" of TPP 11, the prime minister said.

Even with America out of the picture, "if we can have a trade agreement that engages ... the Japanese economy and we can continue the dynamism of more free trade in the region, then we're all going to benefit economically," according to English.

Both New Zealand and Japan "have ratified TPP, which I think indicates the leadership role that the two countries can take," English said.

The prime minister left the door open for a potential U.S. return. "We would certainly hope they would come back later," he said, noting the agreement likely "would be pretty attractive to them without" major changes.

There is "certainly sufficient interest in open borders and free trade [in the U.S.] to indicate that may be considered in the future," he said.

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