09/02/2021, 13.35
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London bets on Obama’s TPP free trade agreement backed by Taipei

by Emanuele Scimia

Preliminary negotiations begin at the end of September. British participation brings the trade block to cover 16% of world GDP. Difficult the participation of Taiwanese, opposed by Beijing. Taiwan wants a bilateral trade and investment agreement with the United Kingdom: tepid the Johnson administration, in favour Lord Alton, sanctioned by the Chinese.

Rome (AsiaNews) - At the end of September, the British government will hold the first meeting to negotiate adhesion to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the free trade agreement born of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) wanted by former US President Barack Obama.

Japan, to date the majority stakeholder in the trade pact, announced London’s move yesterday. Initially signed in 2016 by the U.S., with Washington's participation it would have accounted for 40% of world trade. The Obama administration saw it as a soft-power tool to contain China’s growing power but Donald Trump pulled out early in in his presidency.

Tokyo has been working on expanding the CPTPP for some time. Currently, in addition to Japan, members include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The UK is looking for trade agreements to strengthen its international position post-Brexit. Since London has already signed trade agreements with many CPTPP member countries, its entry into the economic bloc should be relatively quick, most likely in early 2022. British participation would increase the share of global GDP covered by the CPTPP from 13% to 16%.

China, South Korea and Thailand have also expressed interest in this Asia-Pacific free trade area. Taiwan has done the same, but its presence is subject to the exclusion of Beijing, which considers Taipei a "rebel province". The accession of the island to the Cptpp enlarged to Great Britain could spare the British the choice of whether or not to sign a bilateral trade agreement with the Taiwanese - a delicate decision, given Beijing's positions.

Taiwan has repeatedly stressed that it wants to conclude a trade and investment agreement with Britain - as well as with the European Union. The British cabinet seems lukewarm on the matter. Asked by AsiaNews if it had taken steps to negotiate a trade and investment pact with Taipei, the British Trade Office said the Johnson administration is "committed to strengthening its rich and wide-ranging trading relationship with Taiwan.” It added that “the UK is working with Taiwan to deepen its relationship, including through the annual trade talks and associated dialogues, ministerial engagement, and through engagements by the prime minister’s trade envoy to Taipei.” "

In 2020, the volume of goods and services traded between the UK and Taiwan came in at £6.1 billion (€7.1 billion). London has not denied being in talks with Taiwan on trade, but is careful to downplay any formal engagement.

Although British Trade Minister Greg Hands has said in the past that "Taiwan is a subject close to my heart," Boris Johnson seems unwilling to open high-level trade talks with Taipei. Indeed, they would jeopardize the already strained relations with China.

Taipei's representative office in the UK has indirectly confirmed the British approach. Taiwan's de facto embassy in London said its government is committed to promote stronger bilateral economic ties with Britain, including the pursuit of a free trade or investment agreement. The two countries have been holding annual ministerial-level talks to build stronger economic ties, but held the latest round (the 23rd) last year.

In the UK, however, there are those pushing for an understanding with Taipei. Lord David Alton is one of them. A member of the House of Lords, he is one of nine British figures sanctioned by China in March - Beijing's response to previous British sanctions against Chinese officials and entities accused of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

"As [Chinese] threats to Taiwan increase, it is important that the UK acts in concert with its allies in the free world to make it clear to the Chinese Communist Party that its attempts to impose hegemony will be resisted,” said Lord Alton to AsiaNews.

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