Taiwan applies to join Pacific trade pact days after China

Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg


  • Beijing filed its bid shortly after the U.S. struck a security deal with Australia and the U.K.

Taiwan filed to join a trans-Pacific trade group, days after China formally submitted its application, potentially compounding an already awkward position for the pact’s 11 members.

Lo Ping-Cheng, a cabinet spokesman for the self-governing island, which China considers as part of its territory, said on Wednesday that Taiwan has notified all members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as the TPP, of its formal application to join and sought their support.

Beijing said last week it wanted to join the trade pact, which was originally conceived by then-President Barack Obama to counter China’s influence in the region. His successor, Donald Trump, pulled the U.S. out of an early version of the deal in 2017. The TPP officially came into effect at the end of 2018, with Japan as the largest economy. President Biden has said the pact needs to be renegotiated before the U.S. would consider joining.

Beijing’s entry bid has put some U.S. allies such as Canada and Australia, in a tricky position; both have recently clashed with China on security matters. China handed in its application shortly after Australia reached a deal with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, a move aimed at countering China’s growing naval power in the Pacific.

Some members, including Japan, have raised questions over Beijing’s qualifications, including its subsidies to state-owned companies and protection of intellectual property like trademarks. Trade experts also say China would have a tough time meeting the TPP’s standards on environmental protection and worker’s rights.

While Taiwan, with a more market-oriented economy, may have a better case to join the TPP, it is unlikely a decision will come soon. Any single country could prolong or effectively block either or both of China’s and Taiwan’s applications.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a Thursday statement that it hopes relevant countries will properly handle Taiwan-related issues and won’t provide convenience and platforms for any Taiwan independence activities.

“It’s definitely getting more complicated," said Hung Ho-fung, a political economist who teaches at Johns Hopkins University. “With Taiwan trying to join, China would be unhappy. Even if China might not be joining after all, I can expect that Beijing could openly or behind the door put pressure on some of its friends who are already in the CPTPP."

Jeffrey Wilson, a research director at the Perth USAsia Centre, which works with businesses and governments on making trade policy, said the stakes are high for current TPP members in deciding whether to open formal negotiations with Taipei.

“How is that going to be received and how will it affect our relationship with China? The 11 TPP members now have to ask themselves that question," he said.

On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press conference that China “resolutely opposes any official exchanges between any country and Taiwan and firmly opposes Taiwan to join any official agreements and organizations," reiterating its insistence on the “One-China principle."

Taiwan has worked on its bid to join the trade group since President Tsai Ing-wen began her first term in office in 2016, Mr. Lo said, appearing to indicate the timing of its bid was independent of China’s. “We are fully prepared and follow our own pace," Mr. Lo said Wednesday.

“There is certainly a risk to Taiwan’s application if China joins it first," Taiwan’s top trade negotiator, John Deng, said at a Thursday news conference, blaming Beijing for “obstructing Taiwan’s international activity space."

Mr. Deng said Taipei filed its application under the designation it uses for the WTO, the “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu," referring to the main islands that make up Taiwanese territory.

One potential obstacle for Taiwan in joining a trade pact in which Japan has a leading position is a ban on imports of food produced near Fukushima, the site of Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster. The issue has been a point of friction with Tokyo. In 2018, a Taiwanese referendum showed overwhelming support for keeping the ban in place.

Amid objections from China, Taiwan has found it difficult to get seats at other international bodies, such as the World Health Organization, though both are members of the World Trade Organization.

The news came as Beijing imposed an import ban on Taiwanese wax apples and sugar apples, citing dangerous pests in recent shipments. Chen Chi-chung, the island’s agriculture minister, called the move political and said Taiwan would take China to the WTO under the group’s dispute-settlement system if Beijing fails to lift the ban by the end of the month.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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