An Australian parliamentary inquiry will consider whether to open the 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership up to other nations, including the US, UK and China.
The 11-nation trade bloc (including Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia and Peru) was formed in 2018 and has an export market worth nearly $14 trillion.
The agreement creates a framework for trade that is more stringent than ordinary free trade agreements (FTAs) with the goal of increasing ‘standards and norms for trade and economic engagement across the Indo-Pacific region’.
On Thursday Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) representatives appeared before the Joint Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee. In the department’s written submission to the inquiry, it recommended that if a new nation wanted to join the open platform, it would need to demonstrate an ‘ability and willingness to meet the agreement’s high standards’. All existing members of the partnership would also have to agree to new members.
In recent years countries such as China, Columbia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan have expressed interest in joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement (CPTPP). In 2021 the UK made a formal request to join the pact, and DFAT said it hoped the US (which helped negotiate the agreement) was interested in re-engaging with the group to participate as a member.
Ted O’Brien, chair of the parliamentary committee tasked with considering the benefits of opening up the pact, said that it was timely to review expansion options given a recent agreement to progress an FTA between Australia and the UK this week.
“It is timely to consider expanding the most comprehensive plurilateral trade agreement in existence, the CPTPP,” O’Brien said.
“Before we can assess the merits of aspiring economies that could accede to the [partnership], it is important to baseline everyone’s understanding of the agreement, and that starts today when hearing from the DFAT.”
In the department’s written submission, it said the CPTPP was a ‘suitable’ way to expand Australia’s trading opportunities and meet the nation’s ambitious open and investment agenda. DFAT added that supply chain challenges, made all the more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, reinforced the case for an ‘open, transparent and stable trading environment’ with other nations.
“The economic heft of the CPTPP in terms of global GDP coverage and population provides an attractive prospect to other economies,” DFAT said.
“This should incentivise aspirants to offer the best deal possible in order to secure CPTPP membership and gain access to this significant market, and to realise efficiencies through a common set of rules and standards.”