Taiwan needs to do this before it can join Trans Pacific trade pact

In this July 10, 2021, file photo, the Yangshan container port is seen in an aerial view in Shanghai, China. China has applied to join an 11-nation Asia-Pacific free trade group in an effort to increase its influence over international policies. (Chinatopix via AP, File)

TAIPEI (The China Post) — Taiwan submitted on Wednesday an application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP, 跨太平洋夥伴全面進步協定), hoping to become a member of the agreement on its own terms before its main competitor eventually joins in — mainland China.

The CPTPP is widely regarded as the gold standard for regional trade agreements, so Taiwan used the name “the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu” for its membership application — the same name it uses in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Still, the bid remains an immense challenge for Taiwan for three main reasons.

To begin with, new members need the unanimous approval of all eleven member countries — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

If China joins the free trade bloc first, it will pose a major obstacle for Taiwan as the Chinese government is opposing such membership.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement in response to Taiwan’s bid late Thursday, stressing that China opposes Taiwan using trade to push its “international space” or engage in “independence activities.”

“We hope relevant countries appropriately handle Taiwan related matters and not give convenience or provide a platform for Taiwan independence activities,” it said.

To eventually speed up past China, however, Taiwan needs to negotiate with each member first which equates to negotiating 11 trade agreements in a record time.

In the Japan case, for instance, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) needs to reach a compromise with the opposition parties on lifting the existing ban on imports of agricultural products and food from the areas in Japan affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster of March 11, 2011.

According to Taiwan’s Minister without Portfolio John Deng (鄧振中), the head of the Cabinet’s Office of Trade Negotiations: “We definitely need to face the issue once the Japanese side asks us to lift the ban.”

Taiwan authorities hope that they can follow the example of the United States, which on Wednesday announced its decision to lift all of its restrictions on imports of food products from Japan established in the wake of the nuclear disaster.

No progress has been made on this issue, however.

Meanwhile, Malaysia and Singapore have already welcomed China’s interest in entering the CPTPP. The ASEAN member countries are already part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with China.

Knowing that Singapore will chair the CPTPP commission next year, Taiwan will need to quickly address such issues with other economies without further upsetting China if it hopes to further increase its economic clout in the region.

Taiwan’s accession form for the Pacific trade deal, which aims at liberalizing trade and investment among Pacific Rim economies, was reportedly sent to New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

New Zealand will be responsible for passing the application to all member states which will share the most pressing issues they are concerned about with Taiwan.