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U.S. Seeks to Improve Trade with Vietnam, China, Philippines as Modified TPP Advances

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

During his nearly two-week trip to Asia President Trump discussed bilateral trade relations with the leaders of Vietnam, China, Philippines and other countries but came away with no specific deliverables. At the same time, the 11 remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership advanced their effort to modify and implement that agreement.

In a joint statement, the U.S. and Vietnam said they would work to “deepen and expand” their trade and investment relationship through formal mechanisms, including their trade and investment framework agreement. They welcomed the return of market access for U.S. distillers dried grains into Vietnam and new access for Vietnamese star apples into the U.S. and committed to seek resolution of remaining agricultural trade issues, including with respect to catfish, shrimp, and mangoes. They also pledged to promote “free and fair” trade and investment in priority areas such as electronic payment services, automobiles, and intellectual property rights enforcement.

By contrast, a statement with China emphasized longstanding U.S. complaints but gave no indication of any agreement on joint efforts going forward. President Trump underscored the importance of “rebalancing” trade relations with China in a way that “strengthens American jobs and exports.” He also called on China to guarantee “fair and reciprocal treatment” to U.S. companies, provide greater market access to U.S. exports and firms, and accelerate the implementation of market-oriented reforms to reduce its trade surplus with the U.S. Trump also criticized government intervention in the Chinese economy, which he said “has caused stresses in the global trading system,” and reiterated that the U.S. “will use all available trade remedies to create a level playing field for United States workers and businesses.”

With respect to the Philippines, the U.S. said that it welcomed Manila’s interest in a bilateral free trade agreement and that the idea would be discussed further under the bilateral TIFA. The U.S. is also looking to the TIFA for progress on agricultural, IPR, customs, labor, and other issues.

President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the TPP in January, raising questions about its future. On Nov. 11, however, ministers of the remaining signatories (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam) said that after months of work on recrafting the agreement to achieve “a balanced outcome that maintains the significant benefits of the TPP” they had agreed on the core elements of what is now being called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. This includes suspending 20 sections of the original TPP that reportedly could be reinstated should the U.S. ever rejoin the agreement. Ministers noted that consensus still needs to be reached on a few specific items and that technical work toward that end will continue.

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