With the U.S. signaling a turn toward protectionism, nations that have benefited from global commerce, from Australia to Japan to Peru, are trying to pick up the free-trade mantle.
Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has championed the idea that economies gain the most when they can freely buy and sell goods with each other. Now, amid rising U.S. skepticism of trade pacts, negotiators from other countries are rushing to salvage existing deals and sign new ones—often in talks without major American participation.
The latest example: Officials from more than a dozen countries are meeting in Chile starting Tuesday in part to discuss whether it is possible to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a formerly U.S.-led trade pact that President Donald Trump pulled out of in January. The agreement was settled last year but never took effect. In trade circles, the notion of enacting the pact without the U.S., its biggest member, is now known as “TPP minus one.”
“What I will absolutely not do is pull down the [shutters] and say ‘that’s it, game over’,” said Steve Ciobo, the minister of trade in Australia, who is traveling to Chile for the talks.
The talks will take place at a meeting of the Pacific Alliance in Chile, a pro-trade grouping of four Latin American nations that also includes Colombia, Peru and Mexico. The U.S. is sending its ambassador to Chile to the meeting—not a senior trade official—a sign of limited U.S. interest in the outcome
Reviving the TPP without the U.S. is a long shot. Japan—whose support will be crucial—is reluctant to open its markets more without greater access to the U.S., officials from Japan and other nations said.