Japan should play leading role in Britain’s accession to CPTPP

Japan must take the lead in ensuring Britain’s swift accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as it would be an important step toward further expansion of the pact.

The 11 CPTPP countries, including Japan and Australia, held a ministerial-level committee meeting and decided to begin talks with Britain, which applied to join the pact in February. This will be the first procedure to welcome a new member since the agreement came into force in 2018.

After Britain joins, the total gross domestic product of the participating countries would increase from 13% to 16% of world GDP.

In addition to free trade principles, Britain shares such values with Japan as democracy and the rule of law. Britain’s inclusion in the CPTPP would be a great advantage also in terms of strengthening supply chains beyond the borders of the Pacific Rim.

The CPTPP committee will set up a working group to discuss participation with Britain. The decision is expected to take about a year.

In addition to the elimination of nearly 100% of tariffs, the CPTPP sets forth a high level of trade liberalization rules, including protection of intellectual property rights and restrictions on unfair subsidies to state-owned enterprises. After the U.S. withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement negotiations, Japan put together an agreement among the remaining 11 countries.

This year, Japan is the chair of the CPTPP committee. It is important for Japan to sort out the issues for Britain’s participation and to lead the negotiations again. Britain should be asked to eliminate tariffs and fully accept the current CPTPP rules.

This will also be a test case for whether Japan can take a leadership role in other international rule-making as well.

Thailand, South Korea, and Taiwan have also expressed their interest in the CPTPP. It would be desirable to further clarify the terms and procedures through talks with Britain.

China’s President Xi Jinping announced last year that the country would consider joining the CPTPP, but it is believed to be difficult for China to cope with the high level of liberalization at present.

While claiming trade liberalization, China has been carrying out conspicuous unfair practices such as imposing high tariffs on imports from Australia in response to Canberra’s request to investigate the origin of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

It is important to firmly convey to China that strict adherence to liberalization rules is a prerequisite for membership.

The government needs to make efforts, such as gathering information on any unofficial contact China may have had with member countries in preparation for its application. Participating countries must confirm the principle among themselves that the rules of the CPTPP will not be relaxed when new members join the pact.

The United States is likely to prioritize its own employment, making an early return to the CPTPP difficult. The government should continue efforts to convince the United States that the CPTPP is the most effective framework for keeping China in check.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 4, 2021.