The Federal Government is scrambling to rethink the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Asian trade deal.
Now Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is instead hoping the remaining 11 countries can salvage the deal, though he said there was potential for the US to return to the table in the future.
Mr Trump signed an executive order overnight to pull the US out of the 12-country agreement, which could have solidified his country’s leadership in the Asia-Pacific.
Mr Trump described the deal — which would have covered nearly 40 per cent of the global economy — as a “rape” of his country.
Mr Turnbull said the withdrawal was a “big loss”, but not necessarily the end of the deal.
“It is possible that US policy could change over time on this, as it has done on other trade deals,” he said.
There is also the opportunity for the TPP to proceed without the United States. I’ve had active discussions with other leaders as recently as last night.”
The Government had been pushing hard for Parliament to confirm the deal as soon as possible, but Trade Minister Steve Ciobo now said the Government would keep its options open.
“It is a case of being an ongoing discussion and obviously when the time is right, we’ll have a look at the best way forward,” he said.
“We are not going to walk away from pursuing high-quality trade deals.”
“The original architecture was to enable other countries to join,” he said.
“Certainly I know Indonesia expressed a possible interest and there would be scope for China if we were able to reformulate it.”
Japan is the only country to ratify the deal to date, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterating his commitment to the TPP during a phone call with Mr Turnbull last night.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the deal was “not going to see the light of day”.
Mr Shorten said pursuing the agreement on the hopes that the US would change its mind was “the peak of delusional absurdity”.
“Ever since Donald Trump got elected back in November, Mr Turnbull should have realised that the Trans-Pacific Partnership was dead,” he said.
No hope, says leading business figure
But Reserve Bank board member Heather Ridout says the Trans-Pacific Partnership cannot be salvaged and the Government needs to focus instead on regional trade deals that will benefit Australia.
“I think it’s pretty arguable that it can’t be (salvaged), but an awful lot of the elements within the TPP can be,” Ms Ridout told the ABC.
“Politically, it’s a pretty long bow to think we can save the TPP in its current form without the United States being part of it.”
Ms Ridout – whose term at the Reserve Bank ends next month – said the Prime Minister and Trade Minister are right to signal they are committed to free trade, but will eventually be forced to face the reality that the TPP is dead.
“In the end I think they’ll be forced to cut to the chase and move towards the broader regional efforts,” she said.
“A lot of the issues in the TPP can hopefully form the basis and the foundations for other understandings that can be brought toward other agreements.”
Ms Ridout, chair of Australian Super and a director at ASX Limited, also warned about the protectionist policies of newly installed US President Donald Trump.
We’re in uncharted waters. We have a brand as a president. That suggests we’re in for a period of volatility and uncertainty.”