DANANG, Vietnam − Ministers of the 11 signatories remaining in the Trans-Pacific Partnership reached an agreement in principle Thursday to go ahead with the implementation of the free trade deal without the United States.
"It is a high-standard and balanced agreement," said Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan's minister for TPP negotiations after two rounds of ministerial meetings since Wednesday on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in the central Vietnamese city of Danang.
"The agreement has a great significance in creating free, fair and new rules in the Asia-Pacific region where growth is robust," Motegi told journalists.
The specific contents of the agreement will be announced after the 11 countries' leaders confirm it when they gather for the APEC forum on Friday, he added.
In reaching the deal, the ministers agreed to suspend implementation of some clauses of the original text until when Washington may return to the deal. They did not make amendments to the original deal, signed in February 2016 by the 11 countries and the United States.
The 11 TPP countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. With the United States, the Pacific Rim trade pact covered around 40 percent of the global economy.
Japan, the largest economy in the TPP framework after the United States, has led the way to salvage the deal after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the world's biggest economy from the free trade pact in January, saying Americans would lose jobs if the country joins the multilateral free trade deal and that he prefers pursuing bilateral trade agreements.
The pullout came as a shock to the other 11 members, given that the Pacific Rim deal was a landmark pillar of Trump's predecessor Barack Obama's policy of a strategic rebalance, or "pivot," to the Asia-Pacific region and had significance not only economically but in security aspects, amid the rise of China.
The members had been at odds over which clauses to suspend, while maintaining the high-level standard of the deal.
In Thursday's ministerial meeting, a draft of the agreement that Japan, who chaired the meeting with Vietnam, has prepared was the basis of discussions, with a focus on sensitive issues that require political decisions.
Some countries remained cautious. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Wednesday that "Canada will not be rushed into a deal that is not in the best interest of Canada and of Canadians," according to Reuters news agency.
Mexico and Canada have called for suspension of clauses regarding intellectual property, while Vietnam pushed for a review of a rule that cuts or eliminates tariffs on apparel products, the country's major exporting goods.
A change of government in New Zealand has also stoked fears that it may review its preceding administration's stance that strongly advocated for TPP.