09/17/2021, 12.30
CHINA
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Beijing asks to join CPTPP Obama's free trade agreement

Conceived in anti-Chinese terms, Trump had rejected it in 2017. Japan is skeptical. The Chinese would have to meet the pact's high standards, especially on the environment, labor rights and state-owned enterprises. Taiwan also wants to join the CPTPP. Consumption languishes in China, Xi still relies on exports for recovery from pandemic.

 

Beijing (AsiaNews) - China today formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the free trade agreement heir to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) wanted by former US President Barack Obama.

The announcement came 24 hours after the launch of a new military pact between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, a move that Beijing has strongly criticized. Aukus (the name of the agreement) has an obvious anti-Chinese undertone.

Japan has stated that it will carefully consider the Chinese request for membership. Tokyo is the majority shareholder in the CPTPP, which was also signed in 2016 by the US. 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 the Chinese rise, but at the beginning of his presidential term Donald Trump rejected it. In addition to Tokyo, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are members.

The Japanese government has made it clear that it will be necessary to verify whether Beijing is able to meet the high standards - especially on the environment and labor - required by the CPTPP. Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso has been skeptical. He wonders how at present China can enter the great multilateral agreement, which contains stringent regulations on state-owned industries, jealously protected by Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.

China needs the unanimous support of all Cptpp members. With many of them, such as Japan itself, Australia and Vietnam, Beijing has territorial or trade disputes.

Tokyo says negotiations with Britain take precedence. The British government will hold its first meeting in late September to negotiate its membership. South Korea and Thailand have also expressed interest in the CPTPP. So has Taiwan, but its presence is contingent on Beijing's exclusion, which considers Taipei a "rebel province."

Several CPTPP nations are also part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (Rcep), the world's largest free trade agreement, dominated by China. Signed in November by the 10 Asean countries (Association of Southeast Asian Countries), plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, it covers around 30% of global GDP and population. In terms of market opening, however, the Rcep is well below the levels established in the Cptpp or in the free trade agreements signed by the European Union with Japan, Vietnam and Singapore.

According to analysts, China wants to participate in the Cptpp to gain even more centrality in the Asia-Pacific region: a way also to stem the strong US pressure, of which Aukus is the latest piece in order of time. Despite Xi's plans to increase the share of national GDP generated by domestic consumption, exports remain the engine of China's economic recovery from the pandemic. According to official statistics from Beijing, retail sales (a key indicator of consumption) fell by 6% in the country between July and August.

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