South America

Dust must settle before TPP's fate known

Malcolm Turnbull insists free trade is a long game as APEC countries grapple with a separate US. (AAP)

The leaders of countries signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal have done some soul searching on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Peru.

The dust must settle after the US election before the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact can be completely written off.

That's the verdict of the leaders who joined outgoing US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Lima on Saturday (Peru time) for a spot of collective soul searching over the controversial 12-country agreement.

Donald Trump, who intends to withdraw America from the TPP which he has characterised as a job-killing "disaster" and a "rape of our country", has been the elephant in the room at the talk fest.

It's understood leaders are waiting and watching for the US president-elect to appoint key officials and a trade representative before there is more clarity over America's policy direction.

There was reportedly strong support in room for pushing ahead with the deal over coming months if possible and no country wants to walk away from the table.

The leaders also reflected that open trade was facing "global headwinds" and politicians sprouting the benefits had to address peoples' anxieties and the scope for poverty reduction.

"Free trade is a long game," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Lima.

But Mr Turnbull is optimistic Mr Trump might have a change of heart.

"It may well be over time that the TPP is embraced by the United States... perhaps in the same form it is today, perhaps in a different form," he said.

China is seeking to capitalise on US trade policy being in disarray, arguing that its proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which excludes the America, might now provide the only pathway towards an eventual Asia Pacific free trade area.

APEC is considering a study of the concept this year but it could be many years off before negotiations actually start.

"China will not shut its door to the outside world but open more," Chinese President Xi Xinping said in a keynote address at APEC.

Washington is critical of the Beijing-backed regional deal saying it will have lower standards and fewer protections.

Australia is a party in both deals but Mr Turnbull does not share the same concerns.

He said RCEP is a more traditional free trade deal, focused on reducing tariffs on goods and services, and admits it is not as far reaching and ambitious as the TPP.

"You can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," Mr Turnbull said.

"From Australia's point of view the more markets and access we can get for our exports the better."

The prime minister also took aim at Opposition Leader Bill Shorten for his recent displays of sympathy towards trade protectionism.

"He is being wooed by the siren song on populism, he thinks he's picked up something from the American election and he can tap into," Mr Turnbull said.

"But it is the road to ruin for Australia."

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