The 11 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership will sign a new pact without the United States on March 8 in Chile after overcoming differences on outstanding issues, including a request by Canada on cultural protection, a Japanese minister said Tuesday.
"It is a landmark (deal) for the future of our country and the Asia-Pacific region," said Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan's TPP minister, after top trade officials of the 11 TPP countries finalized the TPP text and agreed on the date for their signing ceremony at the two-day meeting in Tokyo through Tuesday.
After the TPP comes into force, "I would like to explain to the United States the importance of the pact in the hope of its return. Other countries have also shown interest (in the TPP) so I want to share information and seek an expansion of the TPP," Motegi said.
Regarding Canada's request to restrict foreign films from coming in to protect its French-speaking culture, other members were cautious about accepting it as it could mean revising the agreement on trade liberalization in the TPP text.
It was decided that the issue will be worked out in the form of side letters, separate from the TPP text, Motegi said. The details of the side letter agreement will not be made public until the pact is signed, a Japanese official said.
After the U.S. withdrawal, the remaining 11 parties agreed on core elements of the new edition of the pact, now renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, in November in Vietnam, but had left some matters for further negotiation such as the request by Canada.
In addition to Canada's requests on cultural protection, three other issues remained as obstacles to finalizing the deal.
Vietnam has demanded exemption from trade sanctions that can be imposed by other countries when laborers' rights are not protected, while Malaysia and Brunei have sought continued preferential treatment for the state-owned enterprise and coal industry, respectively.
TPP negotiators sorted out the requests by Malaysia and Brunei by deciding to suspend the implementation of the provisions. Regarding Vietnam's request, the negotiators agreed to deal with it also by a separate document, Motegi said.
Canada, facing tough negotiations with the United States over the North American Free Trade Agreement that also involves Mexico, has indicated its intention not to be rushed into signing the TPP in its current form, while Japan, Australia and Chile hoped to sign the deal by March.
Given Canada's apparent reluctance to hurry to sign the deal, some Japanese negotiators have floated the idea of proceeding with signing without Ottawa.
Japan, seeking to implement the deal as soon as possible, wants the agreement signed by early March so that bills for TPP ratification can be submitted to the 150-day ordinary Diet session which started Monday.
Chile has said it wants to host the signing ceremony before the change of its president on March 11, Japanese negotiation sources said.
Japan has led the way in resurrecting the pact since the withdrawal of the United States by President Donald Trump in January last year. Trump said the multilateral pact would hurt American jobs and that he preferred bilateral trade deals.
The original TPP pact was signed by the 11 countries and the United States in February 2016 but was never implemented after Washington pulled out.
Excluding the United States, the 11-party TPP's share of world gross domestic product drops to 13 percent, but trade experts say the deal would still create a free trade area with high-standard market liberalization.
The 11 TPP countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.