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Japan emerging as a leader on trade liberalization, says APEC official Alan Bollard

  • Japan and EU moved closer to a free trade pact
  • Japan will host 11 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) chief negotiators later this month to discuss a deal without the U.S.

President Donald Trump may be talking tough on trade, pulling the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but most of the rest of the world is pushing ahead.

Japan was emerging as a leader on free trade, as it edges closer to a free trade pact with the European Union which could be completed within months.

"It's an indication that other economies still think there's a lot of benefit in free trade agreement negotiation," said Alan Bollard, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) secretariat executive director.

The East Asian country will also host chief negotiators of the 11 ex-U.S. TPP countries later this month to discuss a deal without the U.S.

"Japan is showing quite a bit of leadership on trade liberalization," Bollard told CNBC's "The Rundown" on Thursday.

Driving an ex-U.S. TPP through will be challenging as one of the key incentives for many countries to join was market access to the U.S. However, keeping the agreement alive will provide hope and expectation that a future U.S. administration will rejoin the pact, Joshua Meltzer, a senior fellow in global economy and development at Brookings Institution, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday.

Bollard said it was important to keep "the spirit of free trade alive."

"We need to keep the understanding that it has moved a billion people out of extreme poverty in APEC alone. We do know we need to do it differently," he said. "But there will be a strong feeling from all around the APEC region that we keeping going multilateral on that not just revert to bilateral deals."

APEC is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, which has 21 members, ranging from Australia across to Mexico, in a pact that aims to promote open trade and economic cooperation.

News of the Japan-EU pact's progress came just ahead of a G-20 summit in Germany on Friday and Saturday, where trade will be a key topic.