Member nations of a Pacific regional trade deal agreed Wednesday to allow the U.K. to begin the process to join, Japan’s economy minister said, in a potential boost for the country’s trade following Brexit.
Yasutoshi Nishimura said the move would strengthen economic ties between the U.K. and Japan, as well as making the zone covered by the deal equal to the EU in terms of economic size. He spoke to reporters after hosting an online meeting of ministers and officials from the 11 countries who make up the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“The commencement of an accession process with the United Kingdom and the potential expansion of the CPTPP will send a strong signal to our trading partners around the world of our commitment to support a free, fair, open, effective, inclusive and rules-based trading system,” the ministers said in a joint statement.
While the grouping was at one point seen as a way for the U.S. and Japan to counter the growing economic might of China, former President Donald Trump withdrew from negotiations when he took office in 2017 and his successor Joe Biden hasn’t indicated any reversal is likely.
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More recently, China itself has shown interest in joining the pact, following its signing of the separate Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a less demanding agreement covering some of the same nations.
Japan has been supportive of the U.K.’s efforts to seal global trade deals as it seeks to carve out a bigger role in Asia following its exit from the EU. The two countries reached a bilateral trade agreement last year. The U.K. also has separate pacts with other member countries including Canada, Singapore and Vietnam and is pushing for one with Australia. Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru are also part of CPTPP.
The U.K. made its formal application to join CPTPP in February. Becoming a member would accelerate the U.K.’s growth in export trade with faster-expanding Asian economies, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Mike Dennis. The U.K. recorded a trade surplus with CPTPP countries in the first quarter of 2021, he added.