China asks to join trade deal originally intended to counter China's economic clout

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China has formally requested to join the trade deal that was originally intended to limit China’s influence in the global economy.

Canada and 10 other Pacific Rim countries signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership — the CPTPP — in 2018.

On Thursday, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao submitted China’s application to join the CPTPP in a letter to New Zealand’s trade minister, Damien O’Connor.

The 11-country CPTPP evolved out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a U.S.-led effort intended to counter China’s economic clout in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. signed the TPP under President Obama in 2016, but then withdrew from the multilateral pact on President Trump’s first day in office in 2017.

Trade experts say it’s highly unlikely China will be able to meet the benchmarks and requirements laid out in the CPTPP in the near future, but the move by China forces U.S. allies like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan to once again assess their trading relationships with China.

The first step for China will be to convince the CPTPP members that they should establish a working group to negotiate the terms of China joining. (You can read the rules for CPTPP accession here.)

“China is far from the free, fair and transparent world that TPP demands…the chances that it can join are close to zero,” said Japan’s State Minister of Finance Kenji Nakanishi, in a tweet.

For Canada, China’s application has potential implications for the new Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade deal, as the USMCA text includes a “poison pill” clause that allows the deal to be terminated if any of the participants enter into a trade agreement with a “non-market” country, such as China.

The application by China could be viewed as an attempt to prevent Taiwan, which China views as its own territory, from signing on to the trade deal. Taiwan has previously expressed interest in joining the CPTPP under its own membership.

“This seems to be an action to prevent Taiwan from joining,” said Japan’s Nakanishi.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has also formally applied to join the CPTPP. The ministers for the CPTPP countries, including Canada’s trade minister, Mary Ng, agreed to establish a working group to begin talks with the UK in June of this year.

As well, there’s been some discussion about the U.S. possibly rejoining the deal under the Biden administration.

“We’re going to continue to work with other countries in the region on economic partnerships and relationships. And if there’s an opportunity to renegotiate, then that could be a discussion we could be a part of,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, following China’s application on Thursday.

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