China says Chile Pacific trade meeting not about TPP

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Monday that a meeting in Chile to discuss a possible regional Pacific trade deal is not strictly about the languishing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as China tries to distance itself from one-time U.S.-led trade pact.

Representatives from 12 countries that formed TPP, plus China and South Korea, will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday for the first time since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the TPP in January, effectively killing the accord.

China’s special envoy for Latin America, Yin Hengmin, will attend to discuss “Asia-Pacific integration and the next step for cooperation in the Asia Pacific region, and to exchange broad ideas”, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

“The meeting is not as some media have said a TPP meeting,” she said, speaking at a regular press briefing.

Chile hoped the meeting would explore options going forward, including the possibility of building on the base of pre-existing agreements, Paulina Nazal, the country’s head of international trade, told Reuters last week.

Current agreements that could be expanded include Latin America’s four-country Pacific Alliance or the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Critics of Trump’s move to end to U.S. involvement in TPP say it will open up the door for China to shape the direction of Pacific trade in its favor.

Since Trump’s November election win, China has tried to position itself as a champion of free trade.

Australia and New Zealand have said they hope to salvage TPP by encouraging China and other Asian countries to join the pact, a potential move endorsed by some academics in China

The Chinese government has expressed no interest in proposals for them to step in and attempt to renegotiate TPP, which the country has argued was too complex and political, preferring to push RCEP talks, in which China plays a key role.

Beijing says it remains open to all regional free trade efforts, but that they should not be politicized.

“When it comes to TPP, China’s position has not changed,” Hua said.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Nick Macfie