CPTPP Members Meeting in March of 2018, in Chile.

China has made an unexpected bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership — the renamed and renegotiated remains of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, before the United States under the Trump Administration chose to leave the agreement in 2016 before ratification. Intended to foster the economies of export-heavy, pacific-lying countries, counterbalancing the growth of the Chinese economy and the promotion of US-pacific involvement, the CPTPP serves the function of breaking down trade barriers though a myriad of means, chiefly the removal of virtually all tariffs, barring ‘protected goods,’ such as Japan’s rice exports, and Canada’s dairy exports.

Economic populists on both sides of the American political spectrum chastised the deal, citing a lack of wage security and job protections, partially leading to the withdrawal from the deal as one of the former president’s first actions.

Since, the TPP was renamed, and the share of the global economy the partnership would have decreased from 30% of global GDP to just 13%.

This comes just days after the announcement of a nuclear deal between the United States, The United Kingdom, and Australia, providing the latter nation with nuclear submarines, intended almost solely for countering Chinese naval growth and aggression. It isn’t difficult to see the reason why China chose to make this information public — boosting its image as a peaceful economic powerhouse at a time in which the United States is facing pushback for its failure in Afghanistan, and spat with France following the aforementioned nuclear deal.

Regardless, it’s not very likely that the PRC will be able to enter the deal, as the 11 nations have to unanimously agree on its entry. Considering its recent spats with Japan, Australia, and Canada, the likelihood of unanimous agreement is likely a long shot. This begs the question now: why bother? Why bother submitting a request that the PRC knows with near-certainty will be denied?

Potentially trying to prevent Taiwan’s entry to the deal, as well as fomenting discord between the CPTPP nations and the United States, forcing them to review their options and ‘pick a side,’ an uncomfortable gambit for many involved. Additionally, smaller economic powers may welcome China’s entry, should the United States continue its silence on rejoining, as post-Covid economic development lags behind expectation. On the other hand, those very same economic powers are export-heavy, as is China, creating fears of greater out-competition.

In the coming weeks, the nations of the CPTPP will make their decisions as to whether or not the PRC will join the agreement designed to counterbalance it, and the world will watch to see if the United States will move to rejoin that very same deal it created.

– Liam

Additional Reading:

Japan faces difficulty in handling respective CPTPP bids of China and Taiwan

Why U.S. membership in CPTPP makes more sense than ever

China will likely fail in its CPTPP bid — but it’s a ‘smart’ move against the U.S., say analysts

Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – Institute for Government (UK)

Thinking the unthinkable about China’s CPTPP application