TPP trade deal members seek to move ahead without United States

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TPP members are expected to make an announcement Sunday on the sidelines of a meeting of trade ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) bloc, which will also be attended by newly appointed USA trade chief Robert Lighthizer.

On the sidelines of the meeting, trade ministers from the remaining 11 countries involved in the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact are scheduled to meet Sunday seeking to revive the agreement after the US pulled out.

In a stormy first foray overseas for Robert Lighthizer, the new U.S. Trade Representative failed to get Asian and Pacific countries to back the Trump administration's "fair trade" agenda as the two sides disagreed over protectionism.

New Zealand's top trade official said his country wouldn't gain much from major changes to a Pacific trade pact, highlighting obstacles to finalizing the deal without the U.S. after Malaysia called for more negotiations. Both countries had signed the trade deal in a bid to get better market access to the U.S. But, now that the U.S. has backed out they want to renegotiate.

Some still hope for the eventual return of the United States to the deal ditched by U.S. President Donald Trump, because of his readiness to shift position on other issues, Malaysia's trade minister said.

"We want to build a consensus for a TPP-11", Australian trade minister Steven Ciobo told reporters.

"I believe at some point there will be a series of bilateral agreements with partners in this part of the world", he added.

"RCEP is the biggest trade agreement being negotiated at the moment", Vietnam's trade minister, Tran Tuan Anh, said at the opening.

Seven TPP member countries - Australia, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam - are also involved in the RCEP talks.

To move ahead without the U.S., members will have to agree to amend the ratification clause, but reopening talks could risk unearthing what were years of gruelling negotiations.

Japan, which has taken up leadership on progressing the TPP, would be holding a meeting in July and others may be held before the Apec leaders' summit in November, also in Vietnam, where decisions would be made.

"No agreement other than TPP goes so far into digital trade, intellectual property and improving customs procedures", Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko said on Sunday in an interview in Hanoi. The Asia trade deal it favours is called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

USA trade representative Robert Lighthizer said APEC helps create a consensus on fair global trade, which is also a goal that the U.S. wants to promote.

President Trump left a mammoth Pacific free trade deal in ruins.

The statement from the chairman was based on the one the group had discussed earlier, but largely ignored changes proposed by the United States and instead included a reference to a "fight against all forms of protectionism".

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