Vietnam could be shaping up as the weakest link on the prospects of salvaging a controversial Pacific-wide free trade deal.
US President Donald Trump pulled America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement earlier this year, but the remaining 11 countries are in talks to push ahead.
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo is hosting his counterparts from those countries in Sydney this week.
There is a broad desire to seal a deal at the APEC leaders meeting in November in Vietnam.
Matthew Goodman, a former Obama administration official who is now with the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, believes the new trade deal could be a tricky feat to pull off.
“The deal for Vietnam was essentially they would implement difficult reforms on state-owned enterprises and labour and other areas … in exchange for greater access to the US market, particularly for textiles and footwear,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
“Without that part of the deal, one might ask why Vietnam would be willing to move forward?”
There were also challenges with keeping Malaysia on board.
Mr Goodman said a deal without Vietnam and the US – known as TPP 10 – would be a third-best option but would be better than letting it “wither on the vine”.
He believed the US was tacitly encouraging Australia and Japan to revive the deal and “keep the seat warm” for it to come back, using a golfing analogy to explain trade policy under Trump, a keen golfer.
“A good golfer usually hits the ball straight and true but occasionally hits it into the bunker or the woods,” he said.
“But we’re still playing golf, we’re still good at it. We still have an interest in getting the little ball into the hole.”
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