24/01/2017 9:19 AM AEDT | Updated 24/01/2017 9:58 AM AEDT

The TPP Is Not Dead, But It's Not Alive Either

Australia fights to keep Pacific rim trade deal going with or without the U.S.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump made an executive order withdrawing from the TPP today.

CANBERRA – President Donald Trump may have signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the yet to be finalised Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), but Australia's Trade Minister is not giving up on it saying it just "requires now a little bit of elbow grease".

Australian commitment to the TPP -- which was to have covered 40 percent of the global economy -- was reinforced in a phone call overnight between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe where the two men discussed options to keep it alive.

Despite Trump's unshakeable opposition and the official departure of the world's largest eocnomy, the Japanese Parliament has just ratified it.

The move by the new U.S leader was entirely expected; it was a major plank of his election campaign, but Trade Minister Steve Ciobo has told ABC Radio that the American exit was a "hypothetical" move before today and economic modelling on it has not been done.

He's also been insisting, even on Tuesday, during a visit to the United States, that the Pacific rim trade pact is not dead.

"What we are going to do is keep that option alive," the Minister told ABC Radio.

"We are not going to be like Bill Shorten and the Labor Party and walk away from this deal because it requires now a little bit of elbow grease."

The TPP was a negotiated by President Barack Obama with Pacific Rim nations such as Singapore, Japan, Chile and New Zealand as part of his pivot to Asia. But, Trump's focus is on "America first" and had tapped, during the election, into anxiety about the dying American industry and job losses.

It is important to note, the pact was negotiated in secret and many of its provisions are still being kept out of the public sphere.

Regardless, Shorten has declared the Australian pursuit of the deal is a "waste of time" as the TPP is dead in the water."

The key to Ciobo not conceding the 12-nation trade pact is dead, buried and cremated, is the attempts by Australia and the other 10 nations to salvage a "TPP12 minus 1" from the TPP. Ciobo spoke with his counterparts from Japan, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, New Zealand and Malaysia at the World Economic Forum last week in Davos.

"It is very much a live option and we are pursuing it," Ciobo said. "And it will be the focus of conversations for some time to come."

"There are quite a number of countries that have an interest to see if we can make a TPP 12-1 work."

The Trade Minister insists the unfinished multilateral trade deal has already lead to "big gains" for Australia and must be pursued.

"It is a moving space, but it is an important space," he said.

"One we must continue to pursue to give Aussie exporters the best chance to get preferential global access for Australian exports."

Options for salvaging the deal include replacing the U.S. with China or Indonesia, although the inclusion of America was a major TPP attraction.

Labor wants to see the economic modeling to see if the TPP minus the United States is worth fighting for, but Ciobo concedes it has not been done on the impact of a U.S. withdrawal.

"It was a hypothetical before today." he said. Well, it is not a hypothetical anymore.


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