UK formally asks to join major trade pact

William James
·2-min read

Britain has made a formal request to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), seeking membership of the 11-country deal to open new avenues for post-Brexit trade and influence.

Announcing the move on Monday, trade minister Liz Truss said it would create jobs, help rebuild the global trading system and position Britain "at the heart of some of the world's fastest-growing economies".

It comes at a moment of significant economic upheaval for Britain whose 2016 decision to exit the European Union became a reality at the start of the year, and has made trading with its nearest neighbour more expensive and complicated.

Britain argues that the principal economic benefit of leaving the EU is the freedom to strike trade deals around the world, and is trying to position itself as the leading advocate of free global trade after a period of increased nationalism.

"It is important that we take a stand to support multilateralism and the global trading system. There has been too much undermining of the rules-based order," Truss said during a call with her Japanese and New Zealand counterparts.

The CPTPP removes 95 per cent of tariffs between its members: Ausralia, Japan, Canada, Vietnam, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, Chile and Malaysia.

Unlike the EU it does not impose laws on its members, it does not aim to create a single market or a customs union, and it does not seek wider political integration. Britain's application was welcomed by members, including current chair, Japan.

But few see the agreement as generating a surge in trade for the UK: access is expected to take more than a year to negotiate and Britain already has, or is close to reaching, trade agreements with its largest members.

"I wouldn't expect it to be transformative for the UK economy," said James Kane, associate at the Institute for Government.