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EDITORIAL | CPTPP Expansion: Welcome UK, Bar China from Free Trade Group

The UK's inclusion in the CPTPP expands an economic zone that's based on free and fair trade. China, meanwhile, is not inclined to abandon its unfair practices.



Japan's Economic Revitalization Minister Shigeyuki Goto, (second from left), UK Secretary of State for Business and Trade Kemi Badenoch (fourth from left), and New Zealand's Prime Minister Chris Hipkins (far right) at the CPTPP ministerial meeting held in Auckland, New Zealand on July 16. (© Kyodo)

The 11 current members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (CPTPP), including Japan, have officially approved the United Kingdom's application for membership. This is the first time a new member will join the group since the agreement took effect at the end of 2018.

The CPTPP is a mega-agreement that features high rates of tariff elimination and progressive rules for investment. The UK will be the first European nation to join. Moreover, the fact that the group has expanded to embrace Europe is of great significance. It is a major contribution to the development of an economic zone based on the concept of "freedom."

The CPTPP Ministerial Commission meeting was held in Auckland, New Zealand, with the participation of the United Kingdom, on July 16. (© Kyodo)

A Milestone in CPTPP Expansion

We should welcome UK's joining the CPTPP. At the same time, this should be considered a milestone towards further expansion of membership. The move is part of London's strategy to establish a new axis of trade within the region following Britain's exit from the European Union. The benefits to Japan will be limited in light of the existing Economic Partnership Agreement between the UK and Japan. However, that consideration alone is insufficient when evaluating the membership of such a Western industrialized country.

Protectionism is on the rise in the world today. In order to reap the benefits of free trade while taking into account the perspective of economic security, it is necessary to make use of economic blocs that unite countries under fair and equitable rules. British membership in CPTPP is a prime pathway to ensure that trend.

Other CPTPP Applicants

It is only natural that Japan and the UK should intensify their efforts to encourage the United States to return to the CPTPP. The expanded trade agreement entered into force in December 2018. In 2017, the US left the earlier Trans-Pacific Partnership.

However, it is not realistic to expect the early return of the US to the trade group as long as Washington remains wary. We should therefore give priority to making all-out efforts to grow its membership.

Six other countries/regions have submitted applications to join the CPTPP. These include China, Taiwan, Ecuador, and Ukraine, a country currently suffering an invasion by Russia. Ukraine's inclusion in the group would facilitate reconstruction assistance for the country and also diversify Japan's sources for grain imports.

Ministers of member countries convened for the CPTPP Ministerial Commission meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, on July 16. (© Kyodo)

Why China Should Be Barred

The problem is China. Its trade practices violate CPTPP rules in many areas. These include preferential treatment for state-owned enterprises and data fencing in e-commerce. 

In fact, recent moves by the Chinese government have spotlighted Beijing's total disdain for CPTPP rules. For instance, it issued a directive that only domestic products be considered in the government procurement of information appliances. It is obvious that China should not be allowed to join.

Some member countries are urging that China be allowed to join because of its economic heft. Then there are those who would argue that China should be brought into the CPTPP to rectify various problems. 

The fact remains, however, that China still shows no inclination to abandon its unfair trade practices. This is despite making a firm commitment to abide by World Trade Organization (WTO) rules when it joined. No exceptions should be made within the CPTPP.


There are also geopolitical issues involved in China's accession. For one, China's inclusion would likely block Taiwan's path to joining the CPTPP. Japan, along with the UK and other like-minded nations, should take a firm stand against China's membership.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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