Building on NAEGA’s extensive involvement and leadership in improving the terms of trade for its members, Gary Martin attended the High Level Dialogue on Asia-Pacific Integration hosted by the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs March 13-15. Attending the Dialogue were trade diplomats and industry representatives from the US and all of the current 11 countries that are party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. Also at the meeting were trade diplomats from all the Pacific Alliance countries (Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru), China and South Korea.
The US withdrew from TPP in January. However, US ambassador to Chile, Carol Perez, led a strong US delegation at the meetings in Vina del Mar. A team of 4 key staff from the Congress also joined the official US delegation. Gary worked closely with USDA FAS staff at the US Embassy staff in Santiago and had a private meeting with the US Ambassador. He also debriefed with the Deputy Chief of Mission and US Embassy staff in Santiago before returning to the US. Gary also met with most of private sector attendees and gathered several views on how official trade relationships in the Asia Pacific region might change in the near future.
The Chilean General Directorate of International Economic Relations (DIRECON, by its abbreviation in Spanish) termed the high-level meeting with Pacific Alliance members, TPP countries, China, and South Korea as an “opportunity to address the challenges we face with creativity and conviction.”. Most of the official delegations joined DIRECON in consistent messaging that free trade and an open economy are beneficial and positive to their countries while seeking further progress toward more inclusive trade liberalization.
Trade watchers and officials alike had been looking to the 14-15 March summit in Viña for giving some type of clarity on where the TPP may go following the US’ withdrawal from the pact, along with featuring discussions regarding other efforts at developing deeper ties within the region.
How the TPP moves forward remains an open question. Some signatories such as Australia have advocated a “TPP minus one” approach, while others such as Malaysia have reportedly questioned whether such an option would indeed be viable given the economic loss from the US’ exit.
A joint statement released on behalf of TPP partners – minus the US – on 15 March did not confirm whether they had reached any sort of convergence on what the trade deal’s future might be. Rather, the statement refers to the partners’ “firm commitment to collaborate in keeping markets open” and raises their shared fears regarding “protectionism in many parts of the world.”
Along with referring to the trade deal’s “balanced outcome and strategic and economic significance,” the statement refers to a discussion between TPP partners on possible next steps, confirming only that senior trade officials are due to meet again ahead of a ministerial-level gathering on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade ministers’ meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam on 20-21 May.
Notably, the Chilean meeting was also set up as a gathering between TPP signatories and members of the Pacific Alliance, along with China and South Korea. The Pacific Alliance is a four-country group that includes Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. It was launched in 2012 and has since announced advances such as a tariff elimination deal.
Also during the meetings in Viña Del Mar, support for continuing talks in another regional trade initiative was evident. The 16-country Asia-Pacific group known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which has been underway since 2012,and includes all members of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as their six FTA partners: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea was a common topic of discussion According to a summary issued by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the RCEP group seeks advances in discussions on intellectual property and e-commerce, along with market access and select other topics.