Hanoi, May 20 (AFP) Donald Trump’s new pointman on trade met Asia-Pacific trade ministers in Hanoi today as Washington reverses gear on sprawling free trade pacts in favour of one- to-one deals.

With his tough rhetoric on winning back American jobs, President Trump’s elevation to the White House has raised serious fears over a new protectionist era.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a veteran Reagan-era trade negotiator with protectionist credentials, is carrying his administration’s “America First” ethos with him to Vietnam for the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Community (APEC) trade ministers’ meet.

Trump favours bilateral trade deals over the ambitious multilateral pacts of Barack Obama’s administration, which included the sprawling 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The US pulled out of the TPP in January, after Trump labelled it a “job killer.”

That dismayed the other 11 signatories — including Japan, Australia, Singapore and Vietnam — who saw it as a guarantor of regional free trade.

Lighthizer met with his Japanese counterpart on Saturday.

The US and Japan “agreed to promote mutually beneficial trade, fight trade barriers and trade distorting measures,” according to a statement from Lighthizer and his Japanese counterpart Hiroshige Seko.

Japan is spearheading efforts to keep the TPP afloat.

The 11 remaining TPP nations are set to meet Sunday morning and are expected to commit to forging ahead with the pact without Washington, while leaving the door open for the US’ return.

Lighthizer, confirmed by the US Senate just nine days ago, is due to meet with trade ministers from Australia, Canada, China, Mexico and Vietnam on Saturday and Sunday.

His meetings with Canada and Mexico are likely to be dominated by discussions about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

During his election campaign Trump vowed to scrap NAFTA but later backtracked, instead agreeing to renegotiation the 1994 pact.

Leaders from 21 APEC economies, including Trump, are set to meet in the Vietnamese beach town of Danang in November.

At the bloc’s last leaders’ meeting in November, the group vowed to fight protectionism. (AFP) PMS

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.