China seeks to join TPP free trade pact to boost Asia clout – The Foreigners magazine In tokyo
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China seeks to join TPP free trade pact to boost Asia clout

Written by on September 17, 2021

China on Friday began in earnest work to advance its application to become a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, a day after filing a bid to join the pact in an attempt to increase its economic clout in the Asia-Pacific region.

Chinese accession would have a significant impact on trade in the region and its bid is aimed at countering moves that the United States and other partners are pursuing to decouple from the Chinese economy. It remains uncertain, though, whether China will be allowed to join the pact.

To join the deal, formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, China will need the unanimous approval of the 11 member countries. One hurdle China faces is its strained ties with Australia, one of the TPP members.

Screenshot image shows Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking during a two-day virtual climate summit that kicked off on April 22, 2021. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

In June, China said it had filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization over Australia’s anti-dumping tariffs, apparently in retaliation against Canberra’s decision to complain to the WTO over China’s anti-dumping duties on wine exports.

The other existing TPP members are Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The trade pact was originally promoted by the United States to counter China’s growing economic influence.

China’s bid comes as the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden remains cautious about returning to the treaty, from which the United States withdrew in January 2017.

If China joins the TPP, the gross domestic product of participating economies would account for around 30 percent of global GDP, compared with over 10 percent currently. It would also mark a new milestone for the world’s second-biggest economy similar to its accession to the WTO in 2001.

China’s bid to join the free trade bloc follows Britain’s application filed in February this year. Taiwan has also expressed interest in joining.

According to the Chinese Commerce Ministry on Thursday, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao and Damien O’Connor, New Zealand’s trade and export minister, spoke on the phone to discuss necessary procedures.

Following the application, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in a statement, “We would expect that China’s non-market trade practices and China’s use of economic coercion against other countries would factor into” a decision over Beijing’s accession.

Japan, a leading economy in the TPP, has said previously that complying with high-standard rules would be a prerequisite for China to enter negotiations toward participating in the free trade pact.

Compared with some advanced countries such as Japan, China falls behind in liberalizing market access while the Asian economic powerhouse also faces other obstacles, such as reforms of preferential treatment for state-run companies and state subsidies to meet the standards shared among TPP members.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced his country’s intention to seriously consider participating in the TPP when he attended an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in November last year.

In July, during an informal virtual meeting with APEC leaders, he called for “integration, not decoupling,” according to Chinese media.

Related coverage:

China submits application to join TPP free-trade deal

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