SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia has declared the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) not dead ahead of key trade talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Sydney on Saturday, despite opposition to the trade pact from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.
The talks between Australian Prime Minister Turnbull and Abe also come amid heightened regional tension as China asserts its claims over the disputed South China Sea, setting up a potential clash with the incoming Trump administration.
“Talk of the TPP being dead is premature. We need to give the Americans time to work through this issue,” Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) radio on Friday.
The 12-member TPP, which aims to cut trade barriers in some of Asia’s fastest-growing economies but does not include China, can not take effect without the United States.
The deal, which has been five years in the making, requires ratification by at least six countries accounting for 85 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the member nations.
Given the sheer size of the American economy, the deal cannot go ahead without U.S. participation.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said not moving forward with TPP would undermine the U.S. position in the Asia-Pacific.
Ciobo said if the TPP was rejected, Australia would seek free trade agreements with individual Asian nations. “We will certainly continue to look for trade opportunities. Australia is a trading nation,” he said.
Japan is the only signatory to have ratified the TPP, which has a two-year timetable for all members to sign into law.
Besides trade, Turnbull and Abe are expected to discuss regional security, with tensions rising as China flexes its territorial claim in the South China Sea and Trump and his incoming administration challenging Beijing.
China’s recent naval exercises in the disputed seaway and the building of islands there, with military assets, has unnerved its neighbors. Taiwan scrambled jets and navy ships this week as China’s only aircraft carrier sailed through the Taiwan Straits after exercises in the South China Sea.
Trump’s nominee for secretary of state has said China should be denied access to islands it has built in the South China Sea.
China claims most of the resource-rich South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
While Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on China and raised questions over the “one China” policy, which sees Beijing claiming the self-ruled island of Taiwan as part of China.
Reporting by Colin Packham