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Trudeau meets key trade partners to talk about future of Pacific trade deal

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is spending his last day at a major economic summit meeting with two key trading allies across the Pacific in the shadow of an ongoing trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

Trudeau is meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison where talk will focus on the future of a trade deal among 11 Pacific Rim countries, including Canada.

The deal, known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP for short, has been a repeated topic of conversation for Trudeau during his time in the capital of this island nation.

The agreement came up during Trudeau’s meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, and again Sunday in meetings with Abe and Morrison.

Speaking through a translator, Abe said he is ready to work with Trudeau “to expand this trade area which will have the free and fair rules” and forge a closer relationship “to address various global challenges.”

Canada became one of the first six signatories to ratify the CPTPP, bringing it into force in December.

Observers say there is chatter about admitting the United States and China into the CPTPP to create a further-reaching regional trade pact. Morrison noted that the countries who ratified the agreement were “leaving the door open for others to come join, which we would welcome.”

Having either the U.S. or China in the deal would help small- and medium-sized economies counteract the influence of either country, said Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, an expert on the issues facing the Asia-Pacific region.

“If you’re a big economy and you can bully your way around to get preferences for your industries only, then there is a logic to negotiating, bilaterally but that does not benefit the region as a whole,” Woo said.

“It creates rivalry and tension and is generally not favourable to the promotion of economic growth, peace and security in the Asia-Pacific, which is still a very volatile part of the world.”

The volatility of the relationship between China and the United States was on full display at this summit of leaders from the 21 member countries of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group, who combined represent about 60 per cent of the global economy and half of global trade.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence traded barbs Saturday and laid out competing visions for trade and investment in a battle for global influence. 

Pence and Xi left the summit by early Sunday afternoon amid what reports described as tense backroom negotiations on the wording of the final communique from the summit.

In his meeting with Morrison, Trudeau said Canada and Australia have been “aligned over these past couple of days on big issues of trade and the rules-based order,” but noted that “conversations are going on to the last minute.”

A statement Sunday from the host country said Trudeau and other leaders worked to use APEC “as a driver of economic integration and growth, at a time of heightened risks.”

Sunday marks the last day of Trudeau’s 10-day trek across Europe and Asia, hoping in the latter region to push wider trade opportunities for Canadian businesses.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press