Exit Europe, enter Pacific as Britain pushes to join trade partnership

London: It may be on the other side of the world, but that’s not stopping Britain from applying to join a trade partnership in and around the Pacific Ocean.

A year after it formally left the European Union, the British government said on Saturday (British time) that it wants to join the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which removes most tariffs between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

UK Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss is set to speak to officials in Japan and New Zealand on Monday to formally make the request. Negotiations are expected to commence this year.

The government says joining the partnership would deepen ties with fast-growing economies, including Mexico, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The United States, the world’s biggest economy, is not part of the partnership; former President Donald Trump, withdrew the country from its predecessor, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. China, the world’s No. 2 economy, also does not belong.

Britain’s aim in joining is the benefit of lower tariffs for the British economy. The government says the partnership removes tariffs on 95 per cent of goods traded between members.

It is a much looser arrangement than the one for members of the EU, which Britain formally left on January 31, 2020, since the Trans-Pacific agreement does not involve deep political integration.

“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,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Britain’s trade with the partnership was worth £111 billion in 2019, with Japan accounting for near one-quarter. Though substantial, the amount is around six times less than the business the UK conducts with the EU.

Late last year, the British government signed a free trade deal with the EU that sees zero tariffs and quotas on traded goods, although there are other costs to business from increased form-filling and customs checks.

Supporters said one of Brexit’s main benefits lies in the UK’s ability to forge its own trade deals around the world. The EU negotiates trade deals on behalf of its member nations, which now number 27 following the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc.

The British government insisted that the National Health Service and the price it pays for drugs are not for sale in any trade negotiations and that it will not sign trade deals that compromise high environmental protections, animal welfare and food standards.

Sue Davies, the head of consumer protection and food policy at consumer rights organisation Which?, said the government must ensure that joining the partnership does not dilute standards.

“It is important that consumer interests are at the center of government trade policy, as the success of future agreements will be judged on what they deliver for millions of ordinary people in their everyday lives, not just the export opportunities they provide,” Davies said.


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