In January 2018, the government announced its intention to apply to a little-known trade group on the other side of the world, then called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Since then, Liz Truss championed the cause and pushed negotiations forward as international trade secretary, and Kemi Badenoch has now picked up the mantle. Now, more than five years after the initial announcement, Britain is on the verge of joining what is now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
As well as being a great thing for free trade, aligning so closely (and so publicly) with CPTPP member states like Japan and Canada does a lot for Britain’s geopolitical positioning as a leader of the coalition of free nations who want to stand up to China and Russia. The British economy, like so many across the West, has become deeply entangled with China, and the energy crisis and the panic around Russian natural gas imports revealed how vulnerable we are to Putin’s whims.
By joining the CPTPP, Britain sends a signal that we have no intention of carving out an isolated post-Brexit existence and leaving the rest of the world to fend for itself. We have plenty to offer, politically and economically, and we want to be involved with trading and cooperating with like-minded countries across the world – especially when that means helping exclude Russia and China from a growing and prosperous tight-knit community of nations.
Alongside the strategic geopolitical advantages of the CPTPP, trade blocs like this give us the opportunity to lower barriers and boost the economy. We can lower import and export tariffs, lessen bureaucratic obstacles to free enterprise, and bin unnecessary rules and regulations. Joining the CPTPP is unlikely to offer a substantial GDP boost on its own from day one, but it offers a gateway to much closer cooperation with several countries across a wide range of sectors.
Even at this early stage, we are already hearing about the benefits we might enjoy. Our membership opens up avenues for more trade with countries we currently do very little trade with, where there is plenty of opportunity. Canada, for example, apparently saw what Liz Truss did for the agricultural sector (especially the beef market) in her trade deal negotiations with Australia and New Zealand and wants to open up its market to Britain in the same way, allowing for more competition, more choice and lower prices for UK consumers.
Similarly, reports suggest the government is set to eliminate import tariffs on palm oil, an unseen but vital ingredient for countless products from food to toiletries. The UK, like much of the world, relies on palm oil imports from Malaysia (a CPTPP member). The EU, supposedly concerned about deforestation, is cracking down on palm oil imports in a way which suspiciously benefits rival European-made products like sunflower and rapeseed oil, apparently having failed to notice that those other oils cause more, not less, deforestation than palm oil. Brussels’ thirst for bureaucracy harms the Malaysian economy, European economies, the natural world, and consumers, who will be faced with even higher prices on shop shelves once the cheaper, more efficient and more eco-friendly palm oil becomes inaccessible to manufacturers.
Post-Brexit Britain can escape bonkers rules like that thanks to our newfound emphasis on free trade and sovereign decision-making. That benefits our economy, the economies of our trading partners and, crucially, the lives of billions of people who are suffering under the yoke of despotic regimes. A stronger and more engaged Britain means a freer and more prosperous world, and joining the CPTPP sends a strong signal that we are heading in the right direction.
Jason Reed is a writer and broadcaster on politics and policy for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624.
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