Britain begins negotiations to join trans-Pacific trade deal

UK hopes to carve out niche as exporter of premium consumer goods and professional services

British trade minister Liz Truss speaks to Reuters after signing a free trade agreement with Singapore, in Singapore December 10, 2020.  REUTERS/Pedja Stanisic
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Britain will begin negotiations on Tuesday to join a trans-Pacific trade deal it regards as crucial to its pivot from Europe and towards faster-growing economies.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership removes 95 per cent of tariffs between members Japan, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, Chile and Malaysia.

Britain hopes to carve out a niche as an exporter of premium consumer goods and professional services.

Accession to the pact would supplement trade deals London is seeking, or has already agreed to, with larger members.

"This part of the world is where Britain’s greatest opportunities lie," Trade Minister Liz Truss said.

"We left the EU with the promise of deepening links with old allies and fast-growing consumer markets beyond Europe.

"It is a glittering post-Brexit prize that I want us to seize."

The pact is not expected to lead to a surge in British exports.

But it locks in market access, including for legal, financial and professional services sectors, and is considered by ministers to be an important way to gain influence in a region where China is increasingly the dominant force.

Unlike the EU, the partnership does not impose laws on its members or try to create a single market or Customs union, and it does not seek wider political integration.

The process of negotiating membership is largely about proving to members that Britain can meet the group's standards on tariff removal and trade liberalisation, and then setting out details of how and when it will do so.

"The CPTPP agreement has strong rules against unfair trade practices like favouring state-owned enterprises, protectionism, discriminating against foreign investors and forcing companies to hand over private information," the Trade Department said.

"The UK’s joining will strengthen the international consensus against such unfair practices."

The government is expected to publish documents setting out its assessment of the benefits of membership on Tuesday, but highlighted cars and whisky as exports that would benefit.

The US withdrew from an earlier planned trans-Pacific trade pact under former president Donald Trump.

His successor, Joe Biden, spoke before his election last November about the possibility of renegotiating the deal, but has not spoken of any firm plans since taking office.