TOKYO / LONDON – Britain formally requested Monday to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in a bid to expand and deepen the country’s trade relations with the Asia-Pacific region after leaving the European Union.
British International Trade Minister Liz Truss speaks with Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japanese minister for the pact and chairman of the CPTPP Commission in 2021, and Damien O’Connor, New Zealand’s minister of trade and export growth – a country that serves as the official repository of CPTPP documentation – to get the ball rolling. .
Eleven member states of the CPTPP, or TPP-11, will be poised to expand their ranking, with UK requests to join potentially spurring other interested nations to act. Countries and regions that have expressed interest in joining include China, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.
In a letter to O’Connor New Zealand, Truss wrote: “I am writing to you on behalf of Britain to formally request the start of negotiations on British accession to the CPTPP.”
Calling it “one of the most important free trade areas in the world,” Truss wrote that joining the pact was a priority for Britain “as a newly independent trading nation.”
He then added that Britain’s membership “will also be the first step in expanding the influential and modern trade network of 11 dynamic economies outside the Indo-Pacific and American regions.”
Japan, which took office this year, is seeking to maintain a high level of free trade as part of membership requirements. Adding Britain, a staunch supporter of free trade, as the first member under expansion will provide important support in this effort.
The TPP-11 trade agreement came into force in December 2018, with extensive liberalization in tariffs, e-commerce and investment as a hallmark of the agreement. About 95% or more tariffs will eventually be eliminated in trade between members. For safeguards in the digital realm, the TPP prohibits countries from requiring disclosure of software source code – a provision absent from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which counts China as a member.
Adding the UK will increase the TPP share of global gross domestic product to 16% from 13%. According to UK government figures, trade with the 11 TPP countries totaled 111 billion pounds ($ 152 billion) in 2019. The first European participants will help spread the TPP as an international standard for free trade, perhaps encouraging interested parties such as Thailand.
However, adding new members requires unanimous approval. After an official application is submitted, the CPTPP Commission will form a working committee to assess whether a potential country meets the requirements to join. The vetting process for the UK will take nearly a year, according to one estimate.
“Japan will initiate the necessary discussions as Chair of the CPTPP Commission this year,” TPP minister Nishimura tweeted Sunday. “We hope that the UK will demonstrate its strong determination to comply fully with the CPTPP’s high standard obligations.”
“The rules will not be changed for one country,” said Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who handled TPP negotiations as Japan’s top trade negotiator after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement a year before it took effect.
Motegi’s comments underscore concerns about China. The TPP, signed in 2016 by 12 countries Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the US, will form a bulwark against Beijing, only for Trump to go under the ideology. Its “America First”.
The Biden government, which has been careful to rejoin, is expected to prioritize a response to the pandemic and other domestic issues.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said in mid-November that he would “well consider” joining the TPP, ostensibly to exploit America’s vacuum. By expressing interest in front of Washington, Beijing tries to be in a position to find favorable terms.
Liberalized trade rules are seen as an obstacle for China. Although the TPP limits preferential treatment of state-owned companies, obtaining concessions in that area would be an advantage.
Japan and the United Kingdom share the promotion of free trade as a common goal. If some in the TPP press due to loosening of rules, the Japanese government sees its British counterpart as an ally in pushing back to maintain its strict entry standards.