By Kaori Kaneko and Ami Miyazaki
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan welcomes a positive stance by the United States toward an Asia-Pacific trade pact, but indicated that altering the agreement at this point would be very difficult.
Japan’s chief negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Kazuyoshi Umemoto, told Reuters that an agreement among the remaining 11 member nations, set to be signed next month, may have had an impact on the United States.
“We have been working, motivated by hopes that the United States would return to the trade pact soon. We welcome it becoming positive toward the TPP,” Umemoto said on Tuesday.
Japan took the lead in forging the revised trade pact after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of an earlier 12-nation version last year, saying he wanted to seek one-on-one deals that would be more beneficial to the U.S.
Eleven countries finalised the pact in January and are expected to sign it in Chile on March 8.
Last month, Trump told the World Economic Forum in Switzerland that it was possible Washington might return to the pact if it got a better deal.
“It probably was high-profile that we reached the agreement among the 11 nations since it was right before the Davos meeting. That probably had a certain impact,” Umemoto said.
The final text of the revised TPP, now called Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement For Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), is expected to be published on Wednesday.
The new deal does not make changes in the area of market access agreed on by the original 12 members and minimized the number of rule-related items that are frozen, he noted.
“Still, it took us half a year to reach the agreement (for the TPP 11) with intensive talks,” he said, when asked whether there was room to reopen talks to lure Washington back.
Asked about suggestions Britain might join the trade bloc after it leaves the European Union, Umemoto said any country which endorses the agreement and is interested in joining would be welcome regardless of its geographical location.
Later on Tuesday, Umemoto told a news conference he hopes the TPP 11 will become effective during the first half of 2019 after at least six member nations complete their domestic procedures.
Asked about Canada, which showed resistance to a final agreement in November when ministers from the 11 countries gathered in Vietnam, Umemoto said he expects Ottawa will sign the deal in March.
“From my experience, I wish I could say 100 percent. But maybe 99.99999 percent sure. I’m sure Canada will sign… Mr. (Justin) Trudeau talked about the TPP in Davos and he sounded very committed,” he said.