A planned meeting of leaders of the 11 countries in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) to decide on the fate of the trade pact did not take place on Friday, amid disagreements over how to take it forward without the United States.
The leaders were set to meet on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam to discuss how to push ahead with TPP.
Their meeting was preceded by conflicting comments from their delegations on Thursday, when the trade ministers met to firm up a plan to present to the leaders. Japan had said an agreement in principle had been reached, but Canada disputed that.
The spat highlighted the continuing challenge to reviving a pact whose survival was thrown into doubt when President Donald Trump ditched it, in one of his first acts in office, in favour of bilateral deal-making by the United States.
The leaders` meeting had been scheduled for 0145 local time (0645 GMT), but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to show up, according to people familiar with the matter.
"The meeting did not happen, work remains to be done and that`s what`s happening now," a Canadian official said.
"We need to get this right and that will take the time it takes. We have to remember, the task officials had going into this week was to present options," the official said.
Even before the planned meeting, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had told the president of Peru - a TPP member - that he welcomed a broad agreement reached at the TPP ministerial meeting.
Canada, whose economy is the second biggest among the TPP-11 after Japan, said on Wednesday it would not be rushed into a revived TPP deal. Like Mexico, its position is further complicated by renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the Trump administration.
The TPP aims to eliminate tariffs on industrial and farm products across a bloc whose trade totalled $356 billion last year. It also has provisions for protecting everything from labour rights to the environment to intellectual property - one of the main sticking points.
The original 12 countries had reached agreement on the TPP in 2016, but Trump withdrew, throwing its very survival into doubt.
The absence of the United States had made TPP unattractive for some countries, but Japan had lobbied hard to proceed with a pact that could help to contain China`s growing regional dominance.
TPP countries are discussing suspending certain provisions of the original agreement to avoid having to renegotiate it and potentially, in the long term, to entice the United States back.
Earlier on Friday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said he was "reasonably confident" a deal could be reached without the United States. Malaysia is one of the 11 TPP countries.
"We believe TPP is important for the region... The 11 countries led by Japan, we are trying to come up with our new version," Najib said at a separate panel discussion at the APEC summit.
"I am reasonably confident. I am quite sanguine that we will get a deal but of course it has got to go through the process of ratification," he said.
Trump set out a strong message on trade at the APEC summit on Friday, saying the United States could no longer tolerate chronic trade abuses and would insist on fair and equal policies. Redressing the balance of trade between Asia and the United States is at the centre of Trump`s "America First" policy he says will protect U.S. workers.
Countering Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping said Asia-Pacific nations must "uphold multilateralism". Globalisation was an irreversible trend, but the world must work to make it more balanced and inclusive, Xi told leaders.