Washington: New Zealand called on the United States to seek early membership in a budding Asia-Pacific grouping so that it could maintain influence in the rapidly growing region.
The grouping, called the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, or “P4,” is a model free trade agreement involving Singapore, Chile New Zealand and Brunei.
“Joining the P4 is an important way for the U.S to be fully engaged in the architecture of the Asia-Pacific region particularly given groupings such as Asean plus three and the East Asia Summit in which the US is not a participant,” New Zealand’s trade minister Phil Goff said Monday.
The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has an annual summit with China, Japan and South Korea, known as the Asean plus Three process, and an East Asian Summit involving the 13 countries as well as India, Australia and New Zealand.
The U.S was not invited to the summit because it has refused to sign an Asean non-aggression pact, a prerequisite for membership in the 16-nation grouping, which represent a significant proportion of regional trade and economic activity.
Goff told a forum of the Peterson Institute of International Economics in Washington that the United States had expressed interest in the P4 agreement, and that U.S membership would provide “critical mass” necessary to establish the grouping as a “corner-stone” of regional integration efforts.
“Early membership of the agreement provides an unparalleled opportunity to influence the evolving regional trade and economic architecture,” he said. The P4 is the first trade agreement involving Pacific Rim countries and, according to Goff, had a “strong strategic dimension that serves to deepen relationships between members spanning the Asia-Pacific region.”
It achieves a benchmark matched by few preferential trade agreements in having a commitment by all four members to eliminate tariffs on all traded goods, he said. At the same time, the agreement adopted a “high-quality” approach to trade in services and included “progressive provisions” on labour and environment.
“One of the major strategic and economic advantages of the P4 agreement is in its potential as a high quality building block towards establishment of free trade in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said. The U.S has been pushing for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific but China and Japan have been reluctant to give full support.