Desirable to Strengthen Cooperation to Protect Free Trade

The participating countries in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), including Japan and Australia, have officially approved the United Kingdom’s membership. It is hoped that the partnership to protect the free trade system will be strengthened.

This will be the first new membership since the CPTPP entered into force in 2018. With the U.K.’s participation, the CPTPP will have 12 members. The population of the member countries will increase to 580 million, and their combined gross domestic product (GDP) will rise from 12% to 15% of the global total.

The United Kingdom is expected to join the CPTPP by the end of 2024, after completing domestic procedures.

The CPTPP is an agreement that achieves a high level of liberalization. In addition to the elimination of tariffs on nearly 100% of items, it sets strict rules in such matters as limiting unfair subsidies to state-owned companies, protecting intellectual property rights and promoting data distribution.

The United Kingdom applied to join the CPTPP in February 2021 and fully accepted these rules. The expansion of a high-level free trade zone from the Asia-Pacific to Europe is welcome news.

The global free trade system is at a turning point because of factors such as the confrontation between the United States and China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is important to use the United Kingdom’s membership in the CPTPP as an opportunity to build momentum anew for the promotion of trade liberalization.

Increasing the number of members will be an issue for the future, but acceptance of the CPTPP rules is a prerequisite.

Six economies — China, Taiwan and Ukraine as well as the Central and South American countries of Costa Rica, Uruguay and Ecuador — have applied to join the CPTPP. Of these, the focus will be on the treatment of China, which was the earliest of the six to apply, in September 2021.

China is stepping up its diplomatic campaign for CPTPP participation. In June, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a series of meetings with the prime ministers of CPTPP member countries New Zealand and Vietnam. It is believed that Xi sought their support for China to join the CPTPP.

China is probably trying to leverage its huge domestic market to expand support for CPTPP participation. However, factors such as China’s opaque preferential treatment of state-owned companies, forcible technology transfers from foreign companies and “economic coercion” to exert pressure through trade restraints are viewed as problematic.

Membership in the CPTPP is conditional on the consent of all participating countries, including Japan and Australia.

The Japanese government explains that the members have agreed that countries or regions that take coercive approaches to other nations will not be allowed to join. That requirement must be strictly observed.

Meanwhile, there is no prospect of the United States, which withdrew from the original Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, returning to the pact. The presence of the United States is essential for the establishment of free and fair economic rules in the world. In cooperation with the United Kingdom, Japan must persistently urge the United States to return to the pact.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 24, 2023)