The 11 member countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership
South Korean trade officials said behind-the-scenes discussions were taking place with Washington on jointly entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) if the US returns to it. US President Donald Trump previously issued an official order to consider rejoining the TPP. While Seoul was initially set to reach a separate decision on joining the TPP during the first half of the year, signs point to active consideration of a joint entry now that discussions on the US’s return are materializing.
“In our recent South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement amendment negotiations, we established a close-knit trade network with the US. We made plans to cooperate with the US toward joining together at the same time if the US returns to the TPP, and we are currently in discussions with the US,” an Office of the Minister for Trade senior official said on Apr. 13.
In an Apr. 5 briefing on Seoul’s “new trade strategy,” Minister for Trade Kim Hyun-chong announced plans to “cooperate so that South Korea’s TPP membership occurs in a timely manner if the US returns [to the framework].” The aim appears to be to pursue a “new TPP” including 13 member countries, with the US and South Korea joining the 11 current members.
But with Trump insisting on membership on the US’s own terms and listing the negotiation of a better TPP as a condition for returning, the South Korean government plans to watch developments in the US’s reexamination while it works out its own response strategy. With the 11 current TPP members adhering so far to the terms of the agreement reached during the Barack Obama administration – apart from 22 provisions related to intellectual property rights and other areas, which have been “suspended” – interest is building as to what effect Trump’s brute force negotiating strategy will have.
Soon after the 11 member countries began their own individual ratification procedures in March, the South Korean government made plans to reach a decision on whether to join the TPP “regardless of whether the US returns.” With Washington officially weighing a return, it has now shifted course toward a joint entry with the US.
“The TPP supports rather broader-ranging and greater openness than other FTAs in areas like manufacturing and farming products,” explained a senior official with the South Korean government.
“We are considering the full range of factors in our TPP response, including the effects of signing what is essentially an FTA with Japan,” the official added.
By Cho Kye-wan, staff reporter
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