It is not a good week to be in Danang, weather-wise.
It has been raining non-stop over the last five days in this central Vietnam coastal tourist town and no thanks to Typhoon Damrey, the weather is expected to be wet and gloomy throughout the week.
Danang is hosting 21 leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) economies on Friday and Saturday, which would include first-timers US President Donald Trump, who is on a five- nation tour of Asia, and New Zealand’s newly elected Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Senior Apec officials started their meeting on Monday, which continued yesterday before the trade ministers meet today.
As expected, much of the media focus will be on Trump, who already caused ripples during his visits to Japan and South Korea over his criticism on North Korea’s nuclear threat.
As trade officials have their Apec meeting, another group of officials from 11 countries are in Danang for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, which has been in “limbo” since the US withdrew from the FTA.
Negotiators from the 11 remaining countries in the FTA, called the TPP-11, met several times this year to look at options to implement it.
“The 11 countries are trying to see how to take this forward. All recognise that this is a good agreement and we should not let it go.
“We are looking at options available to see if the agreement can be brought into force.
“Officials are working to come up with options for the ministers’ consideration when they meet in Danang,” said an official.
The remaining TPP-11 countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The options being considered include the entry of force condition.
When the US was still in the TPP, it was agreed that the deal could only enter into force with six partners comprising at least 85% of the total GDP of the signatory countries.
Another being looked at is whether to have the full agreement, or to make adjustments, which would require rebalancing of the FTA by freezing some of its provisions.
“It is too early to tell because it is still being discussed. TPP was US-led and concessions were made due to the demands of the US.
“Now the geometry has changed since Washington withdrew.
“The countries are sitting together to identify and discuss areas to freeze so that it will be more acceptable to all countries.
“The 11 countries will need to negotiate whatever provisions and areas they want to freeze,” said another official.
It is understood that Malaysia is looking at provisions involving sensitive issues like medicine, particularly the extension of patent terms and protection for biologics, widely criticised by the Opposition and NGOs when the TPP was being negotiated. Another provision is on government procurement.
An official cautioned that the current exercise was not to renegotiate the TPP.
“That is why we have strict guidelines – we should not lower standards nor change the countries’ market access commitments and there is no amending the agreement,” he added.
Meanwhile, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that several TPP countries’ planned to relax the conditions to bring the FTA into force.
Quoting sources, the newspaper reported that negotiators during their meeting in Japan last week considered dropping provisions related to the GDP.
So far, only Japan and New Zealand have ratified the TPP.
An official confirmed the idea has been floated to just get six out of the 11 remaining countries for the FTA enter into force.