UK begins negotiations to join trans-Pacific trading bloc

Container ships dock at the Port of Felixstowe Ltd., a subsidiary of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd., in Felixstowe, UK, on Jan 25, 2021. (CHRIS RATCLIFFE / BLOOMBERG)

The UK formally started negotiations to join an 11-nation trans-Pacific trading bloc, part of its bid to diversify its commerce post-Brexit.

Joining the CPTPP, whose members include Canada, Japan, Mexico and Australia, is a “glittering post-Brexit” prize, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement. Membership would boost the size of the UK economy by 1.8 billion pounds (US$2.5 billion) over 15 years compared with its 2019 level, according to a scoping assessment by the Department for International Trade. That would mean an increase of 0.08 percent.

This part of the world is where Britain’s greatest opportunities lie. Membership would help our farmers, makers and innovators sell to some of the biggest economies of the present and future.

Liz Truss, Britain's international trade secretary

“This part of the world is where Britain’s greatest opportunities lie,” Truss said. “Membership would help our farmers, makers and innovators sell to some of the biggest economies of the present and future.”

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Britain has been eager to forge new trading relationships since its split from the European Union, a move that has caused trade to decline with its largest partner. Alongside seeking CPTPP accession, the UK is negotiating bilateral deals with Australia, New Zealand and the US, though a deal with President Joe Biden’s administration is unlikely in the short-term.

The UK already has trade agreements of varying depths with seven of the members of the CPTPP, and is in negotiations with two more – Australia and New Zealand. Joining the CPTPP would make it easier for financial and professional services firms to sell into new markets, the UK’s Department for International Trade said.

READ MORE: UK set to formally apply for trans-Pacific trade bloc membership

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has talked up the opportunity to sign bilateral trade deals as a key benefit of Brexit, but critics point to the relatively small expected boost to GDP compared with the UK’s former trading relationship with the EU. The proposed deal with Australia is expected to provide a 0.02 percent uplift.

The benefit of being in CPTPP would grow if other countries such as Thailand or South Korea were to also join, the trade department said.