Taiwan applies to join TPP free trade pact on China’s heels

Sep 22, 2021 – 00:24 KYODO NEWS

Photo taken on Sept. 1, 2021, at Japan’s Cabinet Office in Tokyo, shows the Trans-Pacific Partnership Commission held online. (Kyodo)

TAIPEI – Taiwan on Wednesday formally submitted an application to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, the government said, just days after mainland China filed its bid for membership.

The move, likely to be opposed by Beijing, was confirmed by cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng, with details to be explained by economic minister Wang Mei-hua and trade representative John Deng at a press conference Thursday.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency said the application was submitted to New Zealand, the depository for what it formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership aimed at liberalizing trade and investment among Pacific Rim economies.

The development comes after Beijing filed its application on Sept. 16 in an attempt to increase its economic clout in the region.

China has taken a dim view of the prospect of Taiwan’s membership, amid Taiwan think tanks’ suggestions that the island should join the TPP first to prevent Beijing from obstructing its accession and its participation in regional trade integration.

Commenting on Sept. 7, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, “We firmly oppose the discussion and signing of agreements with implications of sovereignty and of official nature between any country and the Taiwan region.”

China’s bid appears aimed at countering moves that the United States and other partners are pursuing to decouple from the Chinese economy.

To join the free trade deal, however, both China and Taiwan will need the unanimous approval of all 11 member countries — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The United States originally promoted the trade pact to counter China’s growing economic influence.

But the previous administration of President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in January 2017 and the new one of President Joe Biden remains cautious about returning to it.

Taiwan’s top envoy to the United States Hsiao Bi-khim told Kyodo News in an interview in February that it was a blow to Taiwan when the United States pulled out of the TPP as the move also meant the withdrawal of a “very important source of possible support for Taiwan” which has for years been seeking to join.

She said Taiwan has been engaging in informal discussions with countries including Japan toward that goal.

As Taiwan continues to restrict the import of Japanese food products following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011, there are some cautious opinions within the Japanese government regarding the island’s membership bid.

In addition to China and Taiwan, Britain applied to join in February this year.

Cr. KYODO NEWS