Pacific rim leaders scramble for trade options in Trump era

Fri Nov 18, 2016 7:56pm EST
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By Rosalba O'Brien and Mitra Taj

LIMA (Reuters) - Leaders of Pacific rim nations scrambled to find new free-trade options on Friday as a looming Donald Trump presidency in the United States sounded a possible death knell for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

After lower-level meetings, U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Russian President Vladimir Putin were due to arrive at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that brings together leaders whose economies represent 57 percent of global gross domestic product.

While campaigning for the presidential election which he won, Trump labeled the TPP a job-killing "disaster" and called for curbs on immigration and steeper tariffs on products from China and Mexico.

Though Obama championed the TPP as a way to counter China's rise, his administration has now stopped trying to win congressional approval for the deal that was signed by 12 economies in the Americas and Asia-Pacific, but excluded China. Without U.S. approval the agreement as currently negotiated cannot come to fruition.

China's Xi is selling an alternate vision for regional trade by promoting the Beijing-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which as it stands excludes the Americas.

The Obama administration said China would be happy to take over the United States' role as global free-trade promoter.

"We see people around the table here right now talking about if the TPP does not move forward then they're going to have to put their eggs in the RCEP basket," U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told journalists.

Froman said that RCEP would not have labor and environmental protections that are written into TPP.   Continued...

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski wave as they meet at the presidential palace ahead of the 2016 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Lima, Peru November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo