Trade talks in Chile on continuing TPP without the US

Talks were held over March 14 and 15 in the Chilean city of Viña del Mar over whether the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) can be renegotiated and proceed without the United States. In one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump announced that the US was withdrawing from the proposed trade bloc.

Under the terms of a February 2016 agreement, the TPP could only continue with the participation of at least six of the 12 countries that signed up to it, representing at least 85 percent of the combined Gross Domestic Product of the original prospective members. As the US represents 61 percent of the collective GDP, the actions of the Trump administration effectively killed the pact.

Representatives of the other 11 intended founding members—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam—nevertheless gathered on the basis that years of negotiations should not be cast aside. In most cases, the states sent senior trade or economic ministers, and sizeable delegations of officials. South Korea and China were invited to participate, though China sent only its “special representative” to Latin America, not a high-ranking trade official.

The Trump administration contemptuously sent Carol Z. Perez, the US ambassador to Chile who has no background in trade negotiations, to observe the proceedings.

None of the governments involved expected a definite outcome and none was achieved. The talks concluded with only a general agreement that there should be further negotiations in May, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Vietnam.

A statement issued after the talks expressed mutual “concern with protectionism in many parts of the world”. This was an implicit but clear reference to the Trump administration’s threats to wage an “America First” trade war against major US competitors and to possibly ignore future decisions of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

For all the profession of concern over protectionism, however, the most obvious feature of the Chile summit was the manner in which it was used by various states to pursue their own national agendas.

Tim Groser, New Zealand’s ambassador to the US and former trade minister who represented it in initial TPP talks, summed up the standpoint of all participants. He stated bluntly: “At the end of the day we’re all economic nationalists. Our responsibility is to look after our own country’s economic interests.”

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