China pushes Asia trade deal as Trump win ends TPP hopes

16 November 2016

China is pushing its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as an alternative to US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which looks headed for a sudden demise after President-elect Donald Trump takes over administration from Barack Obama.

Trump's election agenda of asserting America's economic leadership has dashed hopes for a US-led deal that would have taken in about 40 per cent of the global economy.

With President-elect Trump saying the Barack Obama-championed TPP would be ''catastrophic'' for the US economy and the chance of it passing increasingly remote, China is hoping that more nations will back away from the pact backed by a protectionist US.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to use this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the Peruvian capital of Lima to push the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which China has championed in recent years as a counterweight to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While the TPP has left out China, the RCEP would give China greater economic prestige in a region where it is seeking to displace US influence.

Meanwhile the state-owned China Daily has said president-elect Donald Trump should consider supporting the Beijing-backed free trade deal in the Asia-Pacific as an alternative to the doomed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

China has championed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade talks, in which the United States is not involved, as an alternative to the TPP, which was part of President Barack Obama's plans for an ''Asian Pivot'' of US influence in a region where Beijing is keen to boost its influence and keep Washington at bay.

China was fearful that the US would marginalise Beijing by forging alliances with its would-be partners in the region, especially as tensions have been running high with many of Beijing's neighbours over China's ambitions in the South China Sea.

''Of course, Beijing is understandably relieved that the exclusive, economically inefficient, politically antagonising TPP is looking ever less likely to materialise by the day,'' the English-language China Daily said in the commentary.

In fact the RCEP has gained traction with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday confirming his nation is looking at RCEP, despite the omission of US in the pact.

Abe, however, plans to stop off in New York en route to Lima to meet Trump and make a last-ditch sales pitch for the TPP.

Also, the China-led pact is seen as an option by countries in America's own backyard. Peru, a smaller economy even among South American countries, has started talks with China about joining the RCEP, even as it holds out hopes that US President-elect Donald Trump might renege on his vow to scrap a rival US-led deal.

Trade minister Eduardo Ferreyros said he hopes Peru will someday be part of both proposed tariff-slashing deals - the Trans Pacific Partnership with the United States and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with China.

Peru, which signed the TPP along with 11 other countries early this year, told Beijing in September that it is interested in joining RCEP, which includes India and a dozen more members.

A number of nations are cautious about the discussions around lowering tariffs on agricultural products, with others potentially opposed to changing negative lists on foreign investment, the official added. China will push Australia and Japan in particular to take the lead in moving forward, the person said.

While the RCEP is a mere trade pact, TPP was presented as a centerpiece of Obama's economic and military rebalancing to Asia and still represents a significant milestone. But, with Trump's election win dashing hopes of a deal, RCEP stands a chance.

The 16 countries involved in RCEP include all 10 members of Asean as well as China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. They represent about 30 per cent of global gross domestic product and almost half the world's population.

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