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Britain formally joins TPP in first expansion of Pacific trade pact

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Kyodo | 16 July 2023

Britain formally joins TPP in first expansion of Pacific trade pact

Britain officially joined a major trans-Pacific trade pact at a signing ceremony in New Zealand on Sunday, marking the first expansion of the accord since its entry into force in 2018 and bringing the bloc to cover 15 percent of global gross domestic product.

The 11 original members of the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership approved the accession of Britain at a ministerial meeting earlier Sunday. The latest development will shift the focus on the handling of other applicants, including China and Taiwan.

Speaking at the signing ceremony in Auckland, Kemi Badenoch, Britain’s secretary of state for business and trade, said, "The U.K. will use our seat at this table to reinforce the importance of CPTPP’s vision of free and fair trade, while upholding each country’s right to regulate according to their own national requirements."

Badenoch was referring to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the formal name of the pact.

Shigeyuki Goto, Japan’s economic revitalization minister who is in charge of negotiations for the TPP, welcomed Britain to the pact, saying he was "strongly convinced" the accession would enable members to "deepen our cooperation to promote the free, fair, rule-based trading system and economic order in the Indo-Pacific and beyond."

The ministerial meeting resumed after the signing ceremony with Britain now a party to the talks.

At the meeting, the 12 members agreed on a process to review the TPP’s provisions in order to uphold the pact’s "gold standard status" and keep up with emerging challenges and opportunities in areas such as digital trade, according to Damien O’Connor, New Zealand’s trade minister who chaired the meeting.

While O’Connor said there was no specific discussion of any of the individual applicants seeking to join the agreement, the ministers issued a joint statement that said members are "currently undertaking an information-gathering process on whether aspirant economies can meet the CPTPP’s high standards, taking into account their experience on their trade commitments."

However, the statement noted that the information collected will "not prejudge" any decision to be taken by members, including the commencement of an aspirant economy’s accession process.

The six economies that have applied to join the trade bloc after Britain are China, Taiwan, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Ukraine.

In a veiled warning to China, Goto emphasized during a press conference that members have a consensus that countries that take "coercive" actions would not become part of the trade bloc.

To join the trade deal, the approval of all members is required.

Britain’s accession, which adds to signs that London is tilting toward the Indo-Pacific region following Brexit, is likely to help build momentum for the return of the United States after it withdrew from the pact in 2017 under then President Donald Trump.

The TPP took effect in 2018 with members including Australia, Japan, Mexico and Singapore. Britain applied to join the free trade bloc in 2021.

The member countries, also including Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam, held two days of ministerial talks from Saturday.

The members have been divided over the potential accession of China. While Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have supported China’s application, Japan and Australia have taken a cautious stance.

Speaking to Kyodo News in Auckland on Saturday, Malaysia’s Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Zafrul Abdul Aziz said his government would support bids by both China and Taiwan to join the agreement.

"We want to be as inclusive as possible, as long as they meet the conditions that we’ve already signed with the member countries," Zafrul said.

 source: Kyodo