The move came almost two years after President Donald Trump’s withdrawal dealt a major blow to what would have been the world’s largest free trade pact.
Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal in one of his first post-election moves as part of his “America First” clarion call, declaring the 12-nation trade pact a “job killer.”
The 11 remaining countries have pledged to move ahead with the deal, which could go into effect by the end of this year, although in a significantly watered-down version without the U.S.
They have kept a door open for Washington’s return, and have also not ruled out allowing other non-Pacific countries to join the deal.
Japan’s foreign minister on Thursday encouraged the U.S. to come back to the pact, speaking at a regional World Economic Forum (WEF) where concerns over trade protectionism have dominated discussions.
“We believe TPP is still the best option for (the) United States,” Taro Kono said.
“It will be very attractive for American industries, American farmers to join it.”
Japan, the largest remaining economy in the TPP, has led the charge to keep it alive.
The newly rebranded deal, dubbed the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) and which forms a market of 500 million people, could go into effect by the end of 2018, Kono added.
Vietnam’s foreign minister Pham Binh Minh echoed Kono’s appeal, calling the deal “a very high-standard agreement.”
Vietnam stood to be the biggest winner from U.S. involvement before Trump’s withdrawal from the pact, which would have opened access to U.S. markets for its cheap manufactured goods — from shoes and shirts to mobile phones and computer processors.
For smaller signatories like Vietnam, unfettered access to U.S. markets was a major draw.
In its original iteration, the free trade bloc would have made up 38 percent of the global economy. Today, the remaining signatories comprise about 13.5 percent.
Japan and Vietnam’s comments come after Trump said in April the U.S. could re-enter the agreement if it was a “better” deal.
Leaders at this year’s regional WEF summit for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have railed against protectionism and called for breaking down trade barriers.
Trade in the region has grown at breakneck pace in the past decade, transforming some of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries into fast-growing export economies.
Earlier at the summit, which closes Thursday, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo compared trade disputes to “infinity wars” — a reference to the latest Avengers movie — vowing to fight protectionism.
“Not since the Great Depression of the 1930s have trade wars erupted with the intensity that they have today,” said the leader, who is seeking re-election next year.
“But rest assured I and my fellow avengers stand ready to prevent Thanos from wiping out half the world population,” he said, referring to the film’s villain.
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