Countries in the massive Pacific trade deal are pushing ahead, but US is 'welcome' to return

  • The U.S. is welcome to return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal but "the clock isn't ticking," said Steven Ciobo, Australia's minister for trade, tourism and investment.
  • The new deal has "open architecture" and is welcoming to all interested countries, Ciobo added.

More than a year since President Donald Trump threw a wrench into a free trade deal once pegged as the world's largest, remaining countries have finally cemented a new agreement without the United States.

The finalized framework — known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership — gets signed on March 8.

Ahead of that, Trump's administration has been loosely signaling a possible change of heart. But participating member nations aren't waiting around.

"The clock isn't ticking" on the prospect of a U.S. return, Steven Ciobo, Australia's minister for trade, tourism and investment told CNBC on Thursday. He added that existing members "are pushing forward with putting this deal in effect."

All 11 countries "would like to welcome the United States back to the table" but that remains a domestic decision for the White House, Ciobo continued.

Trump says he wants 'substantially better'

In January, Trump told CNBC that he would reconsider joining the multilateral pact if the U.S. got a "substantially better deal." And speaking on Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said returning to the TPP "is something the President will consider."

Trump withdrew from the original pact in January 2017, claiming it did not benefit the U.S. He's called the TPP "the worst trade deal in the history of the country," one that's been "pushed by special interests who want to rape our country."

The new deal has "open architecture" and welcomes all interested countries, Ciobo said. And while "there isn't a definitive shot clock or a time countdown for the U.S. to rejoin," he noted that "it would be good for them" and "good for the 11 of us."

The deal includes Australia and countries from the Americas and Asia. China is a not yet a member.