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Malcolm Turnbull Abe summit could have done much more

AFR |  19 January 2018  |  News

Malcolm TurnbullThere was an air of Groundhog Day, about Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's trip to Tokyo this week – a repeat whiff of missed opportunity after last January's summit in Sydney. Despite a buzz of expectation that Japan and Australia were set to elevate their "special strategic partnership" to a new plane of security co-operation, including a long-mooted reciprocal visiting forces agreement, tangible gains were underwhelming.

The closest to a major policy "deliverable" was a pledge by both leaders to press ahead on liberalising trade and investment among the 11 surviving members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which now labours under the clunky banner of Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP-11, as it's better known, had a narrow escape in Manila last November, when Shinzo Abe and Turnbull attended the East Asia Summit.

Already bruised by the Trump Administration's withdrawal, the deal then faced eleventh-hour shenanigans from Canada, and has since been on life support. Trade negotiators must return to Japan next week, but at least Abe appears committed to maintaining a multilateral approach. Canberra and Tokyo can only hope that the US, hovering above the fray like Banquo's ghost, will eventually rejoin. Until then the TPP-11 will have the awkward look and feel of a table set for twelve.

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