Asia Business Channel

Japan welcomes Britain's willingness to join TPP and pledges support

Japan will support Britain in joining the Trans-Pacific partnership accord as both countries seek to promote free and rules-based trade, according to a statement by Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s Minister for Economic Revitalization.

The British government has shown interest in joining the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework, formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).  During talks in Tokyo, Liam Fox, British International Trade Secretary expressed Britain's desire to join the TPP, and Japan offered to provide necessary information and to act as an intermediary, according to Motegi.

"Your expression of interest (in joining the TPP) is a great encouragement to our efforts to attach importance to a free trade system based on rules and to fight protectionism," Motegi said at the outset of the talks.

"We see both the UK's potential accession to CPTPP and the enhancement of the EU-Japan EPA (economic partnership agreement) into a new and stronger relationship as being the basis of our economic cooperation," Fox said.

Tokyo has been promoting the benefits of multilateral trade deals after the U.S. withdrawal from the original TPP and signed a free trade agreement with the European Union in early July.  Motegi told reporters after the meeting that Britain's participation would help promote multilateral trade systems that are "free, fair and rules-based."

Japan, now the leading economy in the framework, and the other existing members are seeking to open its doors to new comers amid the rise of protectionist moves under U.S. President Donald Trump's "America First" policy.

The pact, signed in March, will enter into force 60 days after at least six signatories complete necessary domestic procedures, and only then can talks begin on including additional members.  Japan, Mexico and Singapore have ratified the pact, and Australia, New Zealand, and Vietnam are expected to ratify the agreement by the end of 2018.

Other CPTPP members are Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia and Peru.  Altogether, the members account for 13% of the world' total gross domestic product.  If the proposal for Britain to join the CPTPP goes through, the country would be the first member of the group that does not have borders on the Pacific Ocean or the South China Sea.

Greg Hands, the UK’s Trade Minister told the Financial Times that there is no geographical restriction on Britain joining trade groups. “Nothing is excluded in all of this,” he said: “With these kind of plurilateral relationships, there doesn’t have to be any geographical restriction.” 

It is likely that any agreement for Britain to join the CPTPP will have to wait until 2019 or 2020 at the earliest since the UK is not allowed to make trade deals before it formally leaves the EU.  Aside from Britain, a number of other countries have expressed interest in joining the CPTPP including Columbia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, and South Korea and the admission of these countries would significantly boost the CPTPP’s clout in world trade.
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