Trade ministers of 11 Pacific Rim countries say they agreed on the core elements of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership that the US abandoned in January under Trump.

The empty seat, foreground, for Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is seen during a meeting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam. November 10, 2017.
The empty seat, foreground, for Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is seen during a meeting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam. November 10, 2017. (Mick Tsikas / AP)

Trade ministers from 11 Pacific Rim countries said they reached an agreement Saturday to proceed with the free-trade Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that was in doubt after US President Donald Trump abandoned it.

However, an immediate formal endorsement by the countries' leaders meeting in Vietnam appeared unlikely.

A statement issued in the early hours Saturday said an accord was reached on "core elements" of the 11-member pact while making clear more work remains. The compromise was delayed by last-minute disagreements that prevented the TPP leaders from meeting to endorse a plan on Friday.

"Ministers are pleased to announce that they have agreed on the core elements of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership," the 11 nations said in a statement.

Japan's delegate to the talks, Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, told reporters that disagreements that cropped up Friday had been resolved in five hours of talks that stretched late into the night.

Canada's trade minister Francois-Philippe Champagne shared a statement saying his government had agreed to "a framework for a new Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership" after holding out for strict labour and environmental clauses.

Moving ahead with TPP would be a boost for the principle of multilateral trade agreements after Trump ditched it this year in favour of an "America First" policy that he reiterated at an Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam.

Any kind of TPP deal looked in doubt earlier in the week after officials said Vietnam's chief negotiator had walked out of one round of talks and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau then skipped a leaders' meeting on the pact.

Negotiators returned to the table on Friday and agreed on some basics of what they called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Partly to counter China's growing dominance in Asia, Japan had been lobbying hard for the TPP pact, which aims to eliminate tariffs on industrial and farm products across the 11-nation bloc whose trade totalled $356 billion last year.

Joint APEC statement

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) ministers also released a joint statement on Saturday, three days later than planned because of wrangling over traditional language that the United States wanted to change.

The statement still refers to free and open trade, to fighting protectionism and to recognising the work of the World Trade Organization, but it also refers to fair trade and to members "improving adherence to rules agreed upon."

The statement from the APEC foreign and trade ministers had originally been due on Wednesday from the talks in the Vietnamese resort of Danang.

APEC leaders who meet on Saturday are due to release a separate communique.

Trump has taken a strongly different stance on trade to predecessors with an emphasis on protecting American jobs and ensuring other countries do not take advantage of the United States.

Trump drove home those points in a speech at the APEC meetings on Friday.

The discussion over the statement in Da Nang has been similar to that which took place at G-20 meetings where the Trump administration demanded changes to the usual language.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies