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14 nations start talks in Chile on replacing or redesigning TPP trade

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Ministers and officials representing the 12 countries of the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership, plus China and South Korea, began talks toward a new pact in Chile on Tuesday, but any decision on how it might look seemed far off, reported The Japan Times.

The TPP, which would have included about 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, was effectively torpedoed after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement in January.

Chile, a keen promoter of free trade and one of the signatories of the original agreement, invited TPP representatives to the coastal city of Vina del Mar to try to thrash out a way forward.
But officials said the conversation is just the beginning of a long and uncertain road.

“We see this as an opportunity to have a frank round-the-table conversation to gauge where each of the countries are and then to work out how we might consider what next steps there may be, if there are any,” New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference. “I’m not coming here expecting to make any decisions this week.”

McClay expressed optimism that “there is life still in the TPP” and said he expects the signatory countries to clarify a way ahead “in a few months.”

Ahead of the ministerial meeting, a senior Japanese official held bilateral talks in Chile with representatives from New Zealand, Mexico and three other signatory countries of the TPP. In the talks, Takao Ochi, a state minister at the Cabinet Office, underlined the importance of the pact and close cooperation among signatories.

During the ministerial talks, Chile said its best hope at this point is more meetings. “If we can get some clarity on what is ahead, then that more than justifies the meeting,” Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz told reporters.

The United States was represented by its ambassador to Chile. China, which criticized the TPP and was not part of it, has sent its special envoy for Latin America, Yin Hengmin.

Both China and Chile have emphasized that the meeting — the High Level Dialogue on Integration Initiatives in the Asia-Pacific Region — is not just about the TPP. Nonetheless, the future — if any — of the deal appears to be the dominant topic at the two-day meeting.

Possibilities include redesigning it without the United States or building instead on the proposed Southeast Asian-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Signatories may also use the TPP as a springboard for new bilateral deals, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said.

Officials say there is a reluctance to scrap the TPP entirely.
“These 11 countries have been negotiating with each other for eight or nine years, so we know a lot about each other,” said McClay.

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