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Japan says trans-Pacific trade pact, without US, to be signed in March

Eleven countries aiming to forge a new Asia-Pacific trade pact after the United States pulled out of an earlier version will hold a signing ceremony in Chile in March, Japan's economy minister said on Tuesday in a big win for Tokyo.

[TOKYO]Exactly one year to the day United States President Donald Trump pulled the US out of an ambitious Pacific Rim trade deal, the other 11 countries - including Singapore - came to an agreement to move forward on a new version after two days of talks in Tokyo ended on Tuesday (Jan 23).

The countries will now work towards inking the deal, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and dubbed the TPP-11, by early March.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported March 8 as the date being mooted for the signing ceremony to be held in Chile.

Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang said in a statement on Tuesday: "Singapore is pleased by the good outcome on the CPTPP. We have made significant efforts to uphold the spirit and substance of the original agreement, while maintaining its high ambition and overall balance."

The deal, when entered into force, will substantially lower tariffs on a wide range of goods. Even without the US, it will be attractive for Singapore companies which will gain access to a market of 500 million people with a combined output of US$10 trillion (S$13.2 trillion).

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Apart from Japan and Singapore, the other countries to the deal are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam.

Mr Lim noted that Singapore companies will stand to gain from the "substantial elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers for goods, improved access for service suppliers in a wide range of sectors, greater facilitation of investments, and improved access to government procurement contracts".

Japan and Australia have been flagbearers of the deal since Mr Trump pulled the US out of it, with Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Malcolm Turnbull agreeing in Tokyo last week to take the lead in urging countries to ink the deal by March.

Japan's Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the "epoch-making" new agreement would be a "big engine to overcome protectionism" that has been emerging in several parts of the world.

The CPTPP supercedes the original TPP, with negotiators having agreed to freeze 20 provisions of the original document during talks in November last year, mostly on intellectual property.

Senior officials agreed to freeze another two provisions on Tuesday, the NHK reported, including one relating to a ban on preferential treatment of state-owned enterprises as requested by Malaysia.

The clause of the original document was to ensure businesses regardless of ownership can compete fairly with foreign state-owned enterprises on the basis of quality and price, and not on the basis of discriminatory regulation, subsidies, or favouritism.

While the 11 nations reached a broad consensus on the deal on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, in November last year, questions arose after Canada - the second largest economy in the bloc after Japan - wavered.

Canada had been the holdout, in seeking greater protection of its French-speaking cultural industries such as movies, television and music. It was also unhappy with the rules of origin for cars. But it is understood that Canada withdrew its concerns at the meeting in Tokyo.

These outstanding issues were among those that were resolved following two days of talks among senior officials from the 11 countries in Tokyo. The officials finalised the list of suspended provisions, and completed the legal verification of the agreement, Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said in a news statement.

The MTI added that the outcome "reaffirms the CPTPP countries' collective commitment towards greater trade liberalisation and regional integration".

"The CPTPP continues to be an important, high quality agreement, and is a good example of a plurilateral agreement from which countries each stand to benefit. In this spirit, the agreement will also be open for other willing and like-minded economies to join in future," it said.

Mr Motegi said he hopes to explain the benefits of the trade deal to the US, so that the world's largest economy can eventually be persuaded to return to the pact.

He added that he wants to open the doors for other interested countries to join the CPTPP after it has entered into force. THE STRAITS TIMES

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