WELLINGTON New Zealand is increasingly optimistic that the 11 remaining countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will move ahead with the trade deal despite the withdrawal of the United States, Trade Minister Todd McClay said.
Alongside Japan, New Zealand will be trying to win over other members this weekend when TPP ministers get together in Hanoi on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting.
"I don’t think we should expect any big decision from that ministerial meeting, but certainly I would hope for a very clear direction as far as the process is concerned," McClay told Reuters.
U.S. President Donald Trump dumped membership of the TPP as one of his first acts in an "America First" policy aiming at bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States.
McClay said he thought the original timetable for members to ratify TPP by next March still made sense. So far, only Japan and New Zealand have ratified the deal, but McClay said he believed others would follow.
"I’ve been talking to many of them and visiting a lot of countries. They all have said at this stage they’re interested in the process and want to stick with it," he said.
Among the biggest challenges is keeping Vietnam and Malaysia on board. Their main benefit from TPP would have been greater access to U.S. markets. Without that, there is less impetus for them to make tough reforms on everything from freeing labour rights to strengthening intellectual property protection.
McClay visited both countries recently.
"It certainly feels like there is greater interest in moving forward today then there was a couple of months ago," McClay said.
(Editing by Matthew Tostevin)