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On September 16, 2021, China announced that its Minister of Commerce, Wang Wentao, submitted a formal application to New Zealand’s Minister of Trade and Export Growth to join CPTPP. This is accompanied by recent efforts by Chinese embassy officials to lobby the Australian parliament for assistance in joining the trading pact.
The pact, consisting of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam was signed in 2018 following President Trump’s withdrawal. The deal is seen as a strategic hedge against China’s influence in the region and competing trade pact, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), consisting of Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The development has drawn reactions across the U.S. government and from allies:
The White House
When asked whether the Administration would consider rejoining CPTPP, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that it would be considered alongside “a range” of options to strengthen economic ties in the region. Psaki went on to say that President Biden has “been clear that we have to join with the 40 percent of the world that we had with us for the deal and make sure environmentalists and labor are at the table, so obviously there’d be a lot of steps to be taken in order for that to be a viable option.”
Senate Finance trade subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) and ranking member John Cornyn (R-TX) said, “For quite some time, we have been warning about China’s subtle yet deliberate moves to join the CPTPP – the very trade pact crafted to counter China’s trade influence that the United States mistakenly walked away from” and that, “We’ve long believed that United States trade leadership is critical for our country’s economy and national security – and it’s clear that China is not waiting to assert itself in the region. The U.S. cannot afford to continue waiting in the hallway – we must get our seat back at the table to re-engage our Asia Pacific allies in trade” in a joint statement.
On September 22, 2021, Taiwan announced their formal application to New Zealand’s Minister of Trade and Export Growth to join CPTPP. The announcement came less than a week after China’s application.
On China, Australia’s Trade Minister, Dan Tehan said “CPTPP parties would also want to be confident that an accession candidate would fully implement its commitments under the agreement in good faith.” Tehan went on to say that it was unlikely China could join until members saw a “track record of compliance” on previous commitments.