Taiwan’s TPP bid must be examined based on rules, not China’s opinions

Taiwan has applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Member countries have to consider whether to allow Taiwan to join, based on whether it can conform to the rules of the free trade pact.

Taiwan is Japan’s fourth-largest trading partner, and it has close economic ties with Japan.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi welcomed Taiwan’s bid to join the trade deal, saying: “We share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law. It is an extremely important partner.”

Taiwan is a major manufacturing base for semiconductors, which are in short supply around the world, and its presence in the global supply chain is growing. Taiwan’s participation in the trade pact would have great significance.

The TPP, a pact between 11 countries including Japan and Australia, eliminates tariffs on nearly 100% of items and establishes a high level of liberalization rules in such areas as protection of intellectual property rights and free data distribution. Taiwan will have to accept all the rules in order to join.

China, which applied for TPP membership prior to Taiwan, has opposed Taiwan’s application on the grounds that China and Taiwan are a single country under the “One China” principle.

However, TPP membership is not limited to countries, but also includes economies that have independent tariff systems and trade rules. Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organization and has already concluded free trade agreements with Singapore and other countries.

The Japanese government has indicated its recognition that Taiwan’s participation is possible, while being aware of the 1972 Japan-China Joint Communique, which states that Japan “fully understands and respects” the position of China, which upholds its “One China” principle. China’s argument is unlikely to be understood by many countries.

China’s first priority should be meeting the criteria for membership. It should refrain from encouraging TPP participating countries to oppose Taiwan’s membership. China must avoid any action that would bring political conflict between China and Taiwan into the free trade framework and divide the member countries.

Membership is conditional on the approval of all member countries. As this year’s TPP chair, Japan should exercise its leadership to ensure that the discussion is based on rules. First, Japan should focus on the accession negotiations with Britain, which have already started.

The original Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was designed as a framework led by the United States to create high-level trade rules and to encourage China to act in accordance with the rules. It would be undesirable for the United States to allow China to increase its influence in the region while the United States remains out of the trade pact.

China and Taiwan’s applications to join the trade deal would be the perfect opportunity to urge the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to reconsider participating in the pact. It is important for Japan to strengthen its efforts to urge the United States to return to the trade agreement.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 25, 2021.