East of Suez once again? Understanding the government's bullish … – Palatinate

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The government has hinted that the UK is on the verge of reaching an agreement in principle to join the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in the coming days. What is this free-trade bloc, and why would it be considered a massive political win for PM Rishi Sunak?

The CPTPP is a high-level agreement encompassing 11 member countries which, according to Chatham House, accounts for 13 per cent of global GDP and 15 per cent of international trade. With a population of 500 million in the developing and increasingly wealthy Asia-Pacific region, it is difficult for the current government to ignore such a post-Brexit economic prospect. 

Encompassing Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Mexico, Chile, and Peru, the UK could establish or renew its trade terms with 11 partners in a single negotiation. If the UK joins this bloc, trade tariffs for goods would be significantly reduced, and new rules for digital services and intellectual property would be set according to the government. The essence of the agreement prioritises free market access by reducing barriers and state bureaucracy. With the bloc being centred in a rapidly growing emergent Asian economic area, the government has stated that the CPTPP has a combined GDP of £9tn. Reaction.life, a British economic and political outlet, explains, “A stronger and more engaged Britain means a freer and more prosperous world, and joining the CPTPP sends a strong signal that we are heading in the right direction.” 

The CPTPP…accounts for 13 per cent of global GDP and 15 per cent of international trade

Accession to this bloc would be a massive political win for PM Sunak and the Conservatives, who have been looking for post-Brexit economic initiatives for the country after leaving the European Single Market. According to POLITICO, bloc members have been keen on UK-EU talks about the Northern Ireland Protocol. This is because any agreement made with the EU would immediately impact any future trade agreement with CPTPP member countries, so confusion or disagreement with the EU must be settled before accession will be considered. Despite these concerns, Trade Secretary, Kemi Badenoch had downplayed the role of the EU when she told POLITICO that “many countries, even within CPTPP”, have mentioned the Northern Ireland protocol in trade talks but also admitted to being “spooked by what they think it is, rather than what it actually is”. 

Joining CPTPP goes beyond economics; it puts into practice what former PM meant by “Global Britain”, and for better or for worse, the UK would be diversely invested in new areas of the world outside of Europe. Strategically, the government would sign their intentions to become a global security partner in an ever-deteriorating situation in the South China Sea. With existing Royal Navy facilities in Singapore and Brunei, the former being established under the Five Power Defence Arrangements, Britain is positioning itself as an active guarantor of international stability and freedom of commerce. According to the 2023 Integrated Review of the Armed Forces, “The UK will actively shape, balance, cooperate and compete to create the conditions…necessary for an open and stable international order and to protect global public goods”. Additionally, 54% of CPTPP countries are members of the Commonwealth, and while this organisation is primarily symbolic today, it provides another reason why this country would be invested in the bloc.

Joining CPTPP goes beyond economics; it puts into practice what former PM meant by “Global Britain”

With Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt’s recent announcement of the 2023 budget, an extra £5bn will be allocated to the Armed Forces. While this can be attributed to the more localised war in Ukraine, the long-term strategic implications for the Asia-Pacific cannot be underestimated. If the government can finalise this landmark negotiation, it would do much more than open the country to unparalleled economic opportunity. The broader geopolitical implications of joining CPTPP signal a United Kingdom reinvigorated on the global stage, acting as a world leader in democratic and free-market principles.

Image: Gobierno de Chile via Wikimedia Commons