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The 11 countries in a major Pacific trading bloc agreed on Wednesday to allow the U.K. to begin the process of joining the group.
The member countries of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP, a deal that removes tariffs on 95% of goods, have allowed the U.K. to begin accession talks.
The trading bloc covers 500 million people in countries ringing the Pacific Ocean, including Japan, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Brunei.
The countries in the CPTPP accounted for £110 billion ($156 billion) worth of U.K. trade in 2019, according to the U.K. government.
The CPTPP is a successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a near-identical trading agreement that was signed between the 11 member countries as well as the U.S. in 2016. In January 2017, then-president Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement on his first day in office, so it never entered into force.
Joining the CPTPP would represent a significant development for U.K. trade following the country’s final exit from the European Union and its 27-member state trading bloc at the end of 2020. The U.K. applied to join the CPTPP in February.
“CPTTP [CPTPP] membership is a huge opportunity for Britain,” said Liz Truss, the U.K.’s international trade secretary. “It will help shift our economic center of gravity away from Europe towards faster-growing parts of the world, and deepen our access to massive consumer markets in the Asia-Pacific.”
In a thread on Twitter
trade expert David Henig — the U.K. director of the European Centre For International Political Economy — noted that only seven countries have ratified the CPTPP to date.
“It isn’t a particularly ‘free trade zone’, just an agreement to preferential terms above [World Trade Organization] in terms of tariffs,” Henig said. “The economic impact is probably negligible.”