The Australian
Joe Kelly

Andrew Robb, the man who negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership for Australia, has called for regional leaders to pressure the US into ratifying the trade pact by first turning their focus to securing a rival multilateral agreement championed by Beijing.

The former Liberal trade minister said the TPP — a 12-nation ­Pacific-wide trade deal that excludes China — could not proceed without the participation of the US. He suggested the TPP be “left in the top drawer” for a couple of years to maximise the chances of its eventual entry into force.

A day after Malcolm Turnbull said “active consideration” was being given to the question of how the TPP might continue without the US, Mr Robb told The Australian “it would be nigh on impossible” to “unscramble the TPP egg”.

He said the government’s priorities should shift to finalising the 16-nation Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership trade pact led by China and which omits the US.

Bill Shorten has moved against the TPP, siding with Don­ald Trump, the ACTU, the Greens, Nick Xenophon and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party in a bid to prevent the Prime Minister securing early ratification of the agreement by parliament.

The Opposition Leader continued to argue against the TPP yesterday, saying it was “dead in the water” given the hostility of Mr Trump, who has vowed to tear it up on day one of his presidency.

“Australia legislating a treaty with America isn’t worth the paper it’s on if the Americans don’t legislate that treaty. It’s just a waste of time,” he said.

Mr Robb said if Australia and the 11 other signatory nations outside of the US ratified the TPP, this would allow it to enter into force quickly if Mr Trump had a change of heart in the future. He said finalisation of the RCEP would put enormous pressure on Mr Trump to “pull the TPP out of the drawer” to ensure China did not steal a march on Washington in the Asia Pacific. “Pressure needs to be kept on the US and for every country to approve it would keep a lot of pressure on the US,” he said. “If the RCEP is passed, that will have very significant geopolitical interest because China is leading the charge.”

Mr Turnbull continued to talk up the value of trade deals to job creation during a visit to Brisbane, labelling Mr Shorten a “shallow populist” for a second day over Labor’s shift against the TPP.

Peter Anderson, former head of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a consultant to the Vietnamese private sector on labour market reform, agreed finalisation of the RCEP would put “significant pressure on the US to engage formally through multilateral trade agreements with Asia”.