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Taiwan may have a better chance of joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) than mainland China, given the requirements for entering the Pacific Rim deal, according to analysts and Taiwanese officials.
But one major obstacle the self-ruled island must overcome before gaining admission to the Tokyo-led trade agreement is its ban on food imports from areas affected by a 2011 Japanese nuclear power plant disaster, they said.
The Taipei government has been holding informal dialogue with the 11 members of the CPTPP, a revamped version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership formed after the United States’ 2017 withdrawal.
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With Japan taking the lead, the 11 countries – also including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam – signed the agreement in 2018.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that it would submit an application to join the deal once it had finished informal consultations with those countries. Would-be members must reach a consensus with existing signatories before applying.
In a statement, the ministry said Taiwan had made several members aware of its wish to join, and “their attitude is quite positive”.
Taiwan’s determination to enter the deal increased when, because of Beijing’s opposition, it was left out of the Beijing-led 15-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – the world’s largest free-trade bloc, which incorporates Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Taipei has argued that the island has a strong need to join the CPTPP to secure trade and investment opportunities, increase its competitiveness and international presence, and maintain its place in global supply chains.
The Taiwan cabinet’s Office of Trade Negotiation has said joining could boost the island’s GDP growth by 0.52 per cent, reduce job losses caused by relocation of production, attract foreign direct investment, promote fair competition between public and private sectors, and expand environmental and labour protection.
However, efforts to join could again be hampered by Beijing, which has also expressed interest in joining the CPTPP and has considerable influence over some of signatories that are also RCEP members.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said last month after the RCEP was signed that China would actively consider joining the CPTPP.
Roy Lee, a senior researcher at Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research in Taipei, said Beijing’s willingness alone to join would not suffice, given the requirements it would need to meet.
“For example, on the requirements of digital commerce, a member state must ensure free access of all internet services and apps, and this is impossible for [mainland] China, which has banned social media [such as] Facebook and Line,” he said.
Unless the CPTPP changed its requirements for Beijing, it would be difficult for the mainland to join the bloc, Lee said.
Kung Ming-hsin, head of Taipei government policy-planning agency the National Development Council, said the CPTPP had a much higher bar for entry than the RCEP.
“Under the CPTPP, countries are not allowed to use the powers of the government to assist state-run companies, and this requirement alone could be enough to prevent China from joining,” he told a legislature meeting last month.
John Deng, who heads the Office of Trade Negotiation, said on Monday that the Taiwanese legislature had passed most of the legislation and amendments required by the CPTPP, which supposedly would make Taiwan eligible earlier than Beijing.
“But Taiwan must swiftly resolve the Japanese food import issue, which has been a big concern from Japan during its talks with Taiwan,” he said.
The island has banned agricultural products and food from areas in Japan affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster.
Since Tsai Ing-wen was elected Taiwanese president in 2016, her government has faced heavy domestic pressure over any proposal to lift the ban. Her recent decision to remove a ban on imports of US pork containing ractopamine prompted fierce protests.
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