UK applies to join Asia-Pacific Trading Bloc (CPTPP)

Source: NOAA (via. Wikimedia Commons)
The UK is applying to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), one of the world’s largest Free trade areas.

By Monique Dyer

Membership would mean closer economic ties with many of the UK’s key strategic allies. The announcement regarding the UK’s application to join the CPTPP comes almost exactly one year after the UK’s official departure from the European Union.

The UK’s International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, spoke to officials in Japan and New Zealand on Monday February 1 to formally make the request. Negotiations on the specifics of the membership are expected to begin later this year.

The CPTPP is an attractive trade bloc, comprising 11 Asian and Pacific nations including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan. It also contains many rapidly growing middle economies such as Mexico, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore. 

It evolved from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was a similar agreement that never entered force due to the withdrawal of the United States at the behest of former President Donald Trump. The 11 remaining signatories decided to proceed with a newly revised trade agreement and created the CPTPP as a result.

The agreement came into force in December 2018, and the UK is the first non-founding nation to apply to join. If granted access, the UK would be the CPTPP’s second-largest economy after Japan and before Canada and Australia.

In 2019 alone the bloc accounted for around £111 billion worth of the UK’s trade. Free trade would see a significant increase in trade between these markets and allow UK businesses to export and import goods tariff free. 

Membership in the CPTPP would likely mean: 

  • The elimination or reduction of around 95% of import charges
  • Faster and cheaper visas for business people
  • A reciprocal exchange of data and information regarding State-Owned Enterprises
  • The protection of commercial source codes and encryption
  • Strengthened cross-border intellectual property protection

This deal is particularly attractive to the UK, as unlike EU membership joining the CPTPP does not force the country to relinquish control over its laws, borders, and customs. 

The deal however is not likely to see any huge immediate impacts. Out of the 11 nations which are party to the CPTPP, the UK already has trade agreements with 7 of them – and is pursuing two more. In addition, only a small fraction of the UK’s exports – around 10%- go to CPTPP countries, significantly less than what goes to the EU.

Some sectors in the UK are worried about the impact of the CPTPP including regulations on food standards and agricultural products. However, the UK government has assured that they will protect their own industries and that the deal will be beneficial to all. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that joining the CPTPP demonstrates the UK’s “ambition to do business on the best terms with [their] friends and partners all over the world and be an enthusiastic champion of global free trade.”

The response to the UK’s announcement to join the CPTPP has been largely positive. Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have all expressed that they welcome the UK’s Application. 

If the UK does join the CPTPP, the bloc will be only one of the many free trade deals the UK has negotiated since leaving the EU. Others include individual trade agreements with Japan, Canada, and Mexico and prospective trade deals with the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

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