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Chinese President Xi Jinping told APEC China would “favourably consider joining” the TPP as part of realising a free trade area for the Asia-Pacific.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia welcomed interest from a number of global partners to join the “high-quality” TPP.
“Any new member of CPTPP will need to deliver against the comprehensive nature of the agreement in terms of economic integration, the most ambitious global standard of trade rules and enhanced market access for exporters,” he told The Australian Financial Review.
“The CPTPP is an open platform, where new members are permitted if they can meet the agreement’s high standard and there is consensus among the other parties.”
In a speech overnight to a UK think-tank, Scott Morrison said the US and India were welcome to rejoin the TPP and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which they had respectively pulled out of.
He said the TPP had developed World Trade Organisation-plus disciplines in intellectual property, digital commerce and state-owned enterprises.
“These are some of the areas where the WTO has fallen short,” he said.
“Working with our partners, we plan to make the TPP such a powerful force for open trade and investment that the US and, in the future, India and others will join without reservation.”
With Chinese ministers freezing out their Australian counterparts from communications, Queensland Liberal MP Ted O’Brien, who is chairing a parliamentary inquiry into expanding TPP membership, said aspiring members should engage with all TPP signatories first prior to making a formal request.
“I’m sure Simon Birmingham would welcome a phone call from his Chinese counterpart to discuss the idea,” he said.
“Let’s see where the evidence takes us but I see no reason why the committee would not assess the likes of China and the US along with the United Kingdom, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and others.”
The TPP has 11 members: Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Mexico, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia and Peru.
The US withdrew under Donald Trump, despite one of the key drivers behind the TPP in part being to serve as a counter to China’s growing economic might and influence.
China’s eagerness to join the TPP comes after it, Japan and Australia signed up to the south-east Asian-focused RCEP.
Former diplomat and Asia Society Australia head of policy Richard Maude said the critical question for China was whether it would be prepared to sign up to the TPP as is, or seek to negotiate concessions.
“It’s a high-quality agreement… I don’t think members would be prepared to trade that off to allow China to become a member,” he said.
Mr Maude said Australian support for China joining the TPP could be a small positive given the current tensions.
“But on its own it’s not enough to break the current impasse because right now China is looking at more from us than we can deliver,” he said.
Shiro Armstrong, executive director of the Australian National University’s East Asian Bureau of Economic Research, said China’s membership was something Australia should encourage but was a bit of a long shot because of the concessions Beijing would have to make over state-owned enterprises and digital trade.
“Membership of the TPP will require significant reforms and commitment to reform,” he said.
Dr Armstrong said China’s interest in joining the TPP, coupled with its membership of RCEP, would put pressure on the US to rejoin the TPP. Mr Biden has indicated he would not rejoin the TPP but wants to revive the multilateral trading system.