Australia

Trump snubs historic summit meeting

US President Donald Trump has skipped a meeting with Australian and Asian leaders that resulted in 15 countries signing the largest trade deal in history.Australia and 14 other countries signed off on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free-trade pact that covers a third of the local economy, at this weekend’s Association of South-East…

US President Donald Trump has skipped a meeting with Australian and Asian leaders that resulted in 15 countries signing the largest trade deal in history.

Australia and 14 other countries signed off on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free-trade pact that covers a third of the local economy, at this weekend’s Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) online summit.

Mr Trump didn’t attend this year’s summit for the third consecutive year, and the free trade pact will not include the United States.

Mr Trump withdrew the US from the new pact’s predecessor, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he branded a “potential disaster for the country”.

US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told the online summit Mr Trump regretted being unable to attend but said the US-ASEAN strategic partnership “has become even more important as we work together to combat the coronavirus”.

Fifteen of the countries that did attend this weekend’s summit, including Australia, China, Japan, South Korean New Zealand, Indonesia and Vietnam, agreed to the new trade pact that follows eight years of negotiations.

The pact — which is believed to be the largest ever in terms of gross domestic product — aims to set common rules for trade across the region and lower tariffs.

“The real benefits here are two-fold — one is for our farmers and exporters, they get a more common set of rules across all 15 nations,” Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said on Sunday.

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“The other is for our services export industry, they get significant new access across financial, banking, aged care, health care, education and other types of services industries, right into the provision of architectural, engineering or planning services.

“This is about making sure that we have the opportunity for that part of the economy, the services industry, to be able to grow and be able to get the same type of uplift in trade benefits across the region that our goods exporters have had over recent years.”

The agreement has been signed amid heightened tensions between Australia and China, including an ongoing trade dispute that has seen various Australian exports suspended.

Mr Birmingham urged China to respect international trade rules but welcomed the fact both nations would continue as trading partners.

“There are difficulties at present, and I am deeply concerned that in a number of areas, Chinese regulatory actions have disrupted trade flows,” he said.

“I urge all parties to the RCEP agreement to engage in implementing not only the letter of it, but also the spirit of it.”

India is also excluded from the new trade pact, having pulled out of negotiations last year among concerns over an influx of cheap Chinese products.

“That diminishes some of the value for Australia, particularly given India would’ve been the one RCEP partner with whom we did not previously have any type of free trade agreement,” Mr Birmingham said.

“However, the value of RCEP is still there.”

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