China submits free trade request to CPTPP
China opts for AsiaPac trade in Aukus response, UK adds interesting component
By Chris Devonshire-Ellis
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced Thursday (September 16) that it had applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The consortium is essentially an Asia-Pacific trade alliance and includes Japan, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Canada and Mexico in North America as well as Chile and Peru in South America. The UK has also applied to join, which, given the dire state of trade and diplomatic relations between the UK and China, could add some energy to revitalizing certain trade aspects.
The CPTPP, which entered into force in December 2018, represents around 13.5% of global GDP, has been touted as the “gold standard” of free trade agreements because it imposes high and related quality standards.
China has submitted its request to the Government of New Zealand, which manages various administrative functions relating to the CPTPP, including new applicants. Beijing had long wanted to join the CPTPP after the United States withdrew from negotiations under the Trump administration, which had been agreed to by the outgoing Obama administration and were then called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP aimed to raise standards within the original bloc of nations and reduce their collective dependence on China for trade. Trump’s withdrawal has opened the door for China as the biggest partner of all of its AsiaPac neighbors and the region’s only major trading bloc.
The RCEP agreement covers East Asia, the CPTPP has wider AsiaPac implications. However, for China, the CPTPP demands a series of standards for trade and, most importantly, labor rights to which it should adapt and, in some cases, improve. Beijing would also find itself subject to closer scrutiny for respect for human rights – a question it could conversely welcome, as much of the Western criticism of these issues in Xinjiang has been distorted in the West and are not supported by neighboring Muslim countries or sympathetic Uyghur nations such as Turkey.
Interestingly, the UK, should he join CPTPP will be, after Japan, the second economy in this group, and the third if China joins. If the UK can figure out how to contribute to a process that brings China to higher standards in trade and labor rights, then the idea of a ‘Global Britain’ and working with it instead that against China could usher in a better era for the UK. Relations with China. This could make the UK a “testing ground” for US policies and trade development with China before Washington’s enactment – an interesting proposition.
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