Britain to apply to join Asia-Pacific free trade bloc CPTPP

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Britain will next week formally apply to join a trans-Pacific trading bloc of 11 countries, with negotiations set to start later this year, the government said on Saturday (Jan 30). Since leaving the European Union, Britain has made clear its desire to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which represents 11 Pacific Rim countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The partnership removes most tariffs between the member countries. 

“One year after our departure from the EU, we are forging new partnerships that will bring enormous economic benefits for the people of Britain,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement. “Applying to be the first new country to join the CPTPP demonstrates our ambition to do business on the best terms with our friends and partners all over the world and be an enthusiastic champion of global free trade,” he said. As the first nation that was not a founding member of the group to attempt to join it, Britain is “at the front of the queue”, said Secretary for International Trade Liz Truss.

She plans to speak to Japan’s Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and New Zealand’s Minister for Trade and Economic Growth Damien O’Connor by video call on Monday. Ms. Truss, who has touted the prospect of British membership of the bloc as Britain agreed on post-Brexit trading arrangements with Japan and Canada among other members of the CPTPP, said joining would offer enormous opportunities.

The government said that joining the CPTPP would remove tariffs on food and drink and cars while helping to boost the technology and services sectors. “It will mean lower tariffs for car manufacturers and whisky producers, and better access for our brilliant services providers, delivering quality jobs and greater prosperity for people here at home,” Ms. Truss added.

Negotiations between Britain and the partnership are expected to start this year, the trade department said. But opposition Labour party’s shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry questioned the lack of transparency surrounding the pact. After five years of debate over Brexit trade agreements, she said people would question the British government’s decision “to rush into joining another one on the other side of the world without any meaningful public consultation at all”.

She said: “At present, Liz Truss cannot even guarantee whether we would have the right to veto China’s proposed accession if we join the bloc first.” Reuters reported last Thursday that Britain will not publish an assessment of the economic benefits of CPTPP membership before requesting to join it – contrary to earlier promises. Previous government economic analyses of Brexit have pointed to small boosts to economic output from additional trade deals.

The CPTPP was launched in 2019 to remove trade barriers among the 11 nations representing nearly 500 million consumers in the Asia-Pacific region in a bid to counter China’s growing economic influence. The United States, one of the major proponents of the Pacific bloc under former president Barack Obama, withdrew from the partnership under the Trump administration before it was ratified in 2017. The 11 current members account for about 13 percent of global gross domestic product, worth US$10.6 trillion (S$14.1 trillion), according to New Zealand’s government.

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