Reuters | 8 Aug 2012
Asia Pacific talks not aimed at containing China - US official
U.S. bills TPP as "pivot" toward fast-growing economies
Some in China see initiative as bid to contain it
U.S. says any APEC member can join if it meets standards
Considering whether to restart talks on Taiwan trade ties
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, Aug 8 (Reuters) — U.S.-led talks on a free trade pact in the Asia Pacific region are not an attempt to economically contain China, a top U.S. trade official said on Wednesday.
"This is absolutely not a negotiation that’s directed at China," Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said in remarks at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.
The United States is hosting the 14th round of talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in early September. A final agreement is unlikely before the end of 2013.
The Obama administration has billed the proposed pact as part of a U.S. "pivot" toward the fast-growing economies of the Asia-Pacific region.
Marantis said negotiators had made significant progress in the talks, but are beginning to confront the most difficult issues and still have a lot of work to do.
The current talks include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, with Canada and Mexico set to join in coming months.
Some in China see the TPP as a U.S. attempt to rewrite the rules of trade for the region to economically contain China, whose rapid growth continues to rattle many lawmakers and companies in the United States.
Marantis rejected that charge, noting the TPP is open to any of the 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) willing to meet high standards envisioned for areas like intellectual property, services, environment and labor.
The integration of Vietnam, Malaysia, Canada and Mexico into the talks since 2009 shows that, he said.
"Our goal is to incorporate as many Asia Pacific members into this that are willing to meet the high standards," Marantis said.
"Each country has to make that judgment for itself on whether TPP makes sense for it," Marantis said.
Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the idea the proposed pact could contain China was "laughable" because no trade agreement is capable of that.
Schott also said he thought China could decide in the "medium term" if it wants to join the pact.
China made significant market-opening commitments in 2001 to join the World Trade Organization and has moved toward deeper commitments in bilateral free trade pacts, he said.
Meanwhile, Marantis said the United States welcomes recent steps Taiwan has taken to reopen its market to U.S. beef, but is waiting to see how that is implemented before resuming talks to deepen trade ties.
U.S. frustration with Taiwan over beef trade prompted Washington a few years ago to suspend bilateral talks under a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).
Washington will be evaluating over the next several months whether to restart the TIFA talks, Marantis said.
He acknowledged Taiwan’s long-term interest in joining the TPP, but said it was not an issue that current members had to confront yet.
Schott said it was unlikely Taiwan would become a member of the TPP talks because of the political problems that would create with China, which regards Taiwan as part of its territory.
Japan has also been considering joining talks on the TPP.
Edward Lincoln, a professor and expert on Japan at George Washington University, said it was doubtful Tokyo would join the negotiations because of strong domestic opposition.