Pacific trade pact to be signed in Chile

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo expects the US tariffs issue to be discussed on the sidelines in Chile.
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo expects the US tariffs issue to be discussed on the sidelines in Chile.

The argy-bargy over America's proposed tariffs on steel and aluminium is set to briefly take a back seat as 11 nations sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo will join his counterparts from 10 Pacific countries for the signing ceremony in Chile on Thursday.

The deal had been on life support after the United States' withdrawal but was resuscitated in January following lobbying from Japan and Australia.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the event as a "historic day in the cause of trade liberalisation".

"By keeping the TPP alive at a time when many wrote it off, Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, and I ensured the door remains open for the US and, indeed, other countries to join in the future," Mr Turnbull told a business summit on Wednesday.

"Our future lies in open markets and in a rules-based trading system that allows countries to compete on a level playing field. We know that when Australia competes on its merits, we win."

The deal will eliminate 98 per cent of tariffs in a marketplace worth close to $14 trillion.

Australian exporters would benefit from new trade agreements with Canada and Mexico and greater market access to Japan, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

There is also a better deal for Australian cheese and beef exports to Japan, and new quotas for rice and wheat.

Australian sugar would also have better access to Japan, Canada and Mexico's markets.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop is in New York and urgently seeking a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to raise Australia's concerns about the plan to impose a global 25 per cent tariff on steel imports and a 10 per cent tariff on aluminium imports.

Mr Ciobo expected the controversial US steel and aluminium tariffs issue to be discussed on the sidelines of the Chile signing ceremony.

"The value of the TPP 11 is reinforced by the US tariff decision. It's about ensuring we diversify Australia's export markets to safeguard the future of our exporters," Mr Ciobo told AAP.


* The TPP 11 includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

* US President Donald Trump pulled America out of the deal a year ago after describing it as "a continuing rape of our country".

* The TPP was a key policy of the former Obama administration's so-called foreign policy pivot to Asia.

* Some opponents of the TPP fear it opens doors for companies to sue governments for policies that harm their investments. The deal has a controversial investor-state dispute settlement clause.

* China isn't part of the TPP and is trying to get up a rival deal with seven TPP countries, including Australia, and eight others. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is much narrower and less ambitious than the TPP.

Australian Associated Press