Blow for Obama's TPP as Vietnam parliament defers ratification

September 16, 2016 7:26 AM EDT

A employee works at a yarn weaving plant in Ha Nam province, outside Hanoi, Vietnam October 7, 2015. REUTERS/Kham


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By Ho Binh Minh

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam will not include ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on its agenda for its next parliament session, an official said on Friday, adding to uncertainty over the future of U.S. President Barack Obama's signature trade deal.

As arguably the biggest beneficiary of the deal covering 40 percent of the global economy, Vietnam was expected to be among the first to ratify the TPP, the prospect of which helped spur record foreign investment last year in its booming manufacturing sector.

"TPP will not be on the assembly's agenda because the government's proposal is not completed," a parliament source familiar with the matter told Reuters. He did not elaborate.

Vietnamese ratification was widely considered a formality having already been approved in January by the top brass of the ruling Communist Party.

The National Assembly is 96 percent comprised of party members and domestic opposition to the TPP is unheard of. Its next session begins on Oct. 20.

The delay means that at the earliest, ratification by Vietnam would be several months after November's U.S. presidential election, the run-up to which has seen its trade policy come under heavy domestic scrutiny.

Negotiations were completed last year for the TPP, dubbed a "mega-regional accord", to create a trading zone of 12 members with a combined $27 trillion gross domestic product (GDP).

It seeks to raise standards and challenge China's economic influence and debate in the United States has caused jitters among some of its members, which include Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico.

Obama has expressed confidence of winning congressional approval for TPP before he leaves office, warning that failure to do so would undermine U.S. leadership in the region and allow China to set the rules of regional commerce.

With Vietnam's strengths in electronics, textiles, seafood and commodities, the TPP is seen as a game-changer for its export-dominated economy, and a means of boosting U.S. influence in China's backyard.

Friday's Thanh Nien (Young People) daily newspaper cited Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, the parliament chairwoman, as saying Vietnam's ratification would depend on the Communist Party, the global situation and the outcome of the U.S. election.

The prospects for U.S. legislative approval of the TPP have looked increasingly dim, with both presidential candidates - Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump - stating their opposition to the pact, in its present form at least.

(Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel)



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