- The eleven remaining Trans-Pacific Partnership members could finalize details of a new deal without the United States next month
- For now, countries will have to await results of Japan's lower house election later in October, said Alan Bollard of the APEC Secretariat
Ten months after President Donald Trump abandoned what was pegged as the world's biggest trade deal, its surviving participants may be close to a new agreement.
Details of a new Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty could emerge next month at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, meeting — the agreed upon deadline by the accord's remaining participants.
There's "a reasonable chance" that leaders will actually sign a piece of paper in November or say they will sign one, Alan Bollard, executive director at the APEC Secretariat, told CNBC on Tuesday.
For months, the eleven members, known as TPP-11, have held talks on how to keep their vision of a free-trade bloc alive without the United States. But tensions between countries have stalled progress — Vietnam and Malaysia, in particular, have voiced concerns now that broad access to U.S. markets is off the table.
Led by Japan, the discussions also are dealing with how ratification would work. The original framework, which included the U.S., required formal consent by six nations that account for 85 percent of members' combined gross domestic product. In light of Washington's absence, that condition now needs changing.
Depending on how much the initial pact has been renegotiated and whether new ratification is needed, a new agreement could still be "a year down the track," Bollard cautioned.
Further complicating the matter is Japan's lower house election on Oct. 22.
"Japan has been leading a lot of this renegotiation, and so we've yet to see who the new government will be and what their views will be," said Bollard, a former governor of New Zealand's central bank. "It's not to say that will change, but there'll be some last-minute scrabbling around."
Tokyo is still hoping Trump will eventually change his mind and rejoin the initiative, Japan's chief TPP negotiator Kazuyoshi Umemoto was quoted by Reuters as saying last month.
But if the TPP-11 can bang out a new framework, Tokyo's dream could materialize, risk management firm Eurasia Group said in a recent note.
"The closer that Tokyo moves to concluding a TPP deal without the U.S.," Eurasia Group said, "the more it expects political pressure will increase on Trump to return to the TPP as U.S. business interests — for instance, the agricultural sector — hurt by the withdrawal strengthen their lobbying efforts."
The TPP-11 is expected to provide duty-free access to members for nearly all goods, as well as to create new markets for services and investment.