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UK makes formal request to join trans-Pacific trade deal

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

Announcing the move, 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% of tariffs between its members: Japan, Canada, Australia, 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: 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.

SUPPLY CHAINS

Britain’s trade with the entire CPTPP amounted to 111 billion pounds in 2019, slightly less than its trade with Germany over the same period, and just over a 10th of trade with the entire EU. Britain still trades on tariff-free terms with the EU, albeit with additional administrative barriers.

The CPTPP agreement would lock in market access for trade in services – an area for competitive advantage for Britain – but do little to further liberalise those markets.

Nevertheless the decision to join CPTPP is seen as one that has few downsides: trade could increase, supply chains involving member countries would be simpler, and it could give Britain greater influence.

Sam Lowe, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, said accession could be a useful counterpoint to those who thought Brexit was a nationalist policy and a retreat from the world stage.