Asia trade talks resume after U.S. exit dashes hopes for TPP deal

TOKYO, Japan – Negotiators from 16 Asia-Pacific countries on Monday, February 27, held their first round of free-trade talks since hopes faded of reaching a separate regional deal after the US pulled out.

The 5-day Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks in the western Japanese city of Kobe are being attended by senior officials from the 16 countries involved, a Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) official said.

The United States is not part of RCEP, which has been pushed by China. Apart from Beijing, the planned pact would group the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Within days of taking office, President Donald Trump pulled out of the separate Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an ambitious free-trade agreement championed by his predecessor Barack Obama but which Trump claimed was harmful to the US.

The move fulfilled a key campaign promise but left allies in Asia on the back foot. The TPP had been seen as an economic guarantee of US commitment to the region in the face of the growing influence of China, which was not a member.

RCEP is seen as a more modest deal that calls for lower and more limited regulatory standards. 

During the meeting – the 17th round – participants are aiming to "push negotiations forward broadly in the fields of goods, services, investment, intellectual property, rules of origin, competition and electronic commerce," the METI official said.

"It is important to strike a quality deal in RCEP at a time when protectionism is emerging around the world." – Rappler.com