China, which is not part of the Trump-rejected TPP, is playing the leading role in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Representatives from 16 Asian countries including China are meeting in Kobe this week to discuss a regional free trade pact which can be seen as a rival to the Trans-Pacific Partnership rejected by U.S. President Donald Trump, AP reported.
Talks of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will run from Monday through Friday, the report said.
RCEP, with China playing the leading role, launched talks in 2013 but members have been facing hurdles in reaching consensus over tariffs, trade in services and restrictions on investments in key industries.
The members are Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as the region’s influential markets China and Japan. The markets together accounted for nearly a fifth of U.S. goods imports in 2016.
Trump took office last month and quickly withdrew from the TPP, leaving the trade pack with 11 member states Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
He has said he prefers bilateral deals and pledged to put “America first.” He also pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and to impose a border tax to force manufacturers to move more production back to the U.S. from overseas, AP reported.
The protectionism policy has unnerved Asian economies, including the export-driven Vietnam.
Vietnam’s exports to the U.S. market in 2016 increased 15 percent from the previous year to $38.5 billion, making the U.S. its biggest importer, based on statistics by Vietnam’s customs.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the Asean Business Summit last December has called for deeper economic ties between the bloc members to deal with tighter trade controls in the U.S., Bloomberg has reported.