The Government is not going to sit around waiting for a call from the United States for a bilateral trade deal to replace TPP in the wake of the US withdrawal.

It is joining with Japan, Australia and Singapore to test the resolve of other countries to carry on with the Trans-Pacific Partnership without the United States.

Australian Prime Minister is reinforcing the possibility that China and Indonesia could join - and South Korea too is known to be interested.

Prime Minister Bill English said he was surprised last week to hear Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, arguing the merits of TPP even without the US - Abe has previously said it would be "meaningless" without the US.

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English said the views expressed by Japan, Australia and Singapore, along with New Zealand's own view "would add up to making an effort to find out what we can do with TPP rather than just dropping it and waiting and hoping to get a call sometime."

While New Zealand had long wanted a free trade agreement with the United States, President Trump had made it clear that any bilateral deals, which might be attractive to New Zealand in concept, would need to have significant benefits for the US.

He was not impressed on President Donald Trump's suggestion that a deal could be dumped in 30 days if a trade partner "misbehaves".

"That's one aspect of it we would find unattractive," he said at his post-Cabinet press conference.

He thought the chances of a good FTA with the US were low.

"If you ask me today I think there's a pretty low chance of that happening in a form that we would find satisfactory - but wouldn't want to rule it out, any more than we would want to rule out other versions of progress on free trade.

"Bear in mind it is not the only game in town for us."

There could be some political will for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership talks to pick up, he said.

Progress was being made on talks with the European Union and the Gulf states.

He said he had asked Trade Minister Todd McClay to go to the United States as soon as is practical to talk to his counterpart, Robert Lighthizer, about developments once he is confirmed in the job.

In the meantime McClay will be taking soundings from the other trade ministers in TPP countries.

Trade Minister Todd McClay will wing his way to the US as soon as possible. Photo / Ben Fraser
Trade Minister Todd McClay will wing his way to the US as soon as possible. Photo / Ben Fraser

TPP trade ministers are expected to meet within two months - possibly in Chile.


Trump signed a directive ordering officials to withdraw the United States from the TPP.

But he indicated that the 11 other countries of the TPP - including New Zealand - will be approached to negotiate a one-on-one deal with the United States.

The directive order officials "to begin pursuing, wherever possible, bilateral trade negotiations to promote American industry, protect American workers, and raise American wages."

Later Trump told union leaders at the White House that the US was going to have "one-on-ones".

"And if somebody misbehaves, we are going to send them a letter of termination, 30 days and they'll either straighten it out or we're gone - not one of these deals where you can't get out of them and it's a disaster."

"We're going to have plenty of trade," he said "But TPP wasn't the right way so we're going back to those countries, one-on-one, and that'll be beautiful."

The US already has free trade agreements with six of the other signatories: Australia, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Singapore.

The five with which it does not have FTAs are: Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.