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The signatories to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) have signed off on the UK’s request to begin negotiations to join the trade deal, which marks the first CPTPP accession process since the Pacific Rim pact entered into force in December 2018.
“The commencement of an accession process with the United Kingdom provides an opportunity to advance the CPTPP’s high-standard rules for the 21st century and further promote free trade, open and competitive markets, and economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond,” said the 11 CPTPP signatories in a joint statement on 2 June 2021.
An accession working group will now convene regularly to hammer out the details of the UK’s entry, including how it will take on the CPTPP’s terms and what will constitute its market access commitments. According to the decision approving the UK’s accession talks, this working group will be chaired by Japan, with Australia and Singapore serving as vice-chairs, and with all CPTPP parties and the UK represented.
“CPTTP membership is a huge opportunity for Britain,” said Liz Truss, the UK’s International Trade Secretary. “It will help shift our economic centre of gravity away from Europe towards faster-growing parts of the world, and deepen our access to massive consumer markets in the Asia-Pacific.”
The CPTPP’s signatories are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Viet Nam. Of these, seven have ratified the agreement, with the deal in force for them. Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, and Peru have yet to complete the ratification process.
The sweeping trade deal captured international attention during its negotiation, given the stated ambition of the participants to set a new bar for trade rulemaking in the Asia-Pacific. While some of its provisions, such as in the areas of environment or labor, were lauded by proponents for being more ambitious and enforceable than those in many trade deals, some critics argue that these could have gone further. Others note that the benefits also run the risk of being undermined by other aspects of the agreement, such as the inclusion of an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism in its investment chapter.
The CPTPP has also attracted controversy in other policy areas, especially in relation to the provisions in its intellectual property rights (IPRs) chapter. While some of these provisions were suspended after the US withdrew from the agreement in early 2017 – when it was still named the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement – many remain in place.
Several other countries have floated interest in joining the CPTPP as well, though none have advanced to the same stage as the UK, which will also become the first non-Pacific Rim party if accession talks succeed. Whether the US Biden administration will eventually ask to rejoin – and, if so, whether it would push to have suspended provisions reinstated and lobby for other changes – also remains unclear at this stage.
The timetable for the UK accession negotiations has not yet been announced, and several questions remain, including how developments in other ongoing talks – such as the UK’s negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, respectively, for bilateral trade agreements – will factor into the process.
The UK-Australia agreement is reportedly in the final negotiating stages, with officials stating that an agreement in principle could be days away. The UK also has trade agreements in effect with several other CPTPP signatories, including Japan and Chile, which are effectively rollover arrangements that replicate existing trade deals from when the UK was still an EU member State.
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By Sofía Baliño, Communications and Editorial Manager, Economic Law and Policy, IISD