The 11 member countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership met on June 2 to begin negotiations with the United Kingdom, which started its application for membership in February.
Discussions are expected to begin within the next few months, with the outcome presented during or after 2022. If the U.K. joins the partnership, it will be the first country outside of the inaugural members. The entrance of a European nation would increase the momentum for expansion of the TPP beyond the Asia-Pacific region.
This negotiation will set the precedent for future countries applying for membership. In order for the U.K. to gain membership, there must be unanimous approval among members. On the premise that the U.K. will eliminate high tariffs and follow rules, Japan, which is the chair country this year, should take the lead to ensure that the U.K. smoothly and quickly gains acceptance.
After Brexit, strengthening relations with the Asia-Pacific region, which has a growing economic presence, will also be important for the U.K. Additionally, agreements with developed European nations that support values such as freedom and democracy have significance beyond the promotion of free trade.
The original purpose of the TPP is to expand the realm of free and fair market economies, distinguishing it from China, which pursues hegemony through uniting its economic and military power.
The British government is wary of China regarding diplomacy and security, calling it the greatest threat to the U.K.’s economic security. Joining the TPP may also be in line with this perspective. Japan, as a country that directly faces China’s threat, must support the U.K.’s entrance.
In January, the United Kingdom and Japan entered an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), and the U.K. is expected to take the position of promoting liberalization during the TPP negotiations.
However, there are a number of considerations that must be addressed by each country, such as the timing and mechanism for reducing tariffs on individual goods. A flexible position on the part of the U.K. is needed in order to gain the understanding of the member states.
The United States, which left the TPP in 2017, has prioritized protecting domestic industries and securing domestic employment even under the Biden administration, and there are no indications of an early return to the agreement.
Meanwhile, Taiwan and South Korea, among others, have exhibited interest in joining the TPP. But they also show a willingness to partner with the Xi Jinping administration in China.
The TPP contains principles that China will find difficult to accept, such as regulations for state-owned businesses and rules for the digital field. For this reason, the hurdle for China to join is high. However, there is a possibility that it will seek an exception from these provisions.
In order to prevent this from happening, it is necessary to clearly define the principle of following TPP rules during the negotiations with the U.K.
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(Read The Sankei Shimbun editorial in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun