China formally applies for CPTPP accession

September 18, 2021 | 10:19
China has held initial discussions about joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
China formally applies for CPTPP accession
China has formally applied to join the CPTPP

Accordingly, China's Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao sent the application to Damien O'Connor, New Zealand's Minister for Trade and Export Growth, which serves as the CPTPP's depositary, in a letter on Thursday. The two ministers had a teleconference to discuss the relevant follow-up work.

The CPTPP is a major trade pact comprising of Asia-Pacific countries including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Together, these countries represent about 500 million people. If China were approved to join the CPTPP, the total GDP of the member economies would account for about 30 per cent of the global GDP, compared with more than 10 per cent generated by the current 11 member countries.

Commenting on the move of China, Stephen Olson, research fellow at the Hinrich Foundation said that the conventional wisdom that China is not ready to accede to the terms of the CPTPP is wrong. China is entirely capable of managing the requirements of the CPTPP. Many of its final provisions, although groundbreaking, fell short of lofty initial ambitions. And 20 provisions from the original TPP text were suspended after the withdrawal of the US. Ample exceptions and wide loopholes would ease China’s compliance with the more challenging provisions.

"And in those cases where the stipulated exceptions are insufficient, China has demonstrated its immense skill in bending, evading, and otherwise nullifying trade rules in other agreements," he added.

In terms of timing, China might see the need to strike while the iron is hot. Tensions and antagonisms with other countries in the region have been intensifying and the US has been signaling its desire for greater regional engagement. Now might be the most opportune time for China to apply for membership. Circumstances in the future might be less favourable, especially if relations with some CPTPP members continue to decline and the US were to join first, although the Biden administration has not expressed any strong interest.

"At least some CPTPP members are likely to have issues of concern with China and it’s unclear to what extent that could complicate or delay the consultation process. Political and strategic considerations will also undoubtedly creep into the process," he said. "The big question of course is whether China’s application will have any effect on the Biden administration’s calculations. The Biden team has made it clear that a potential CPTPP membership is not a priority, at least during the first term. Will China’s application now push CPTPP consideration to a higher priority level?"

By Thanh Van

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