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China submits application to join TPP free-trade deal

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the 13th BRICS summit via video link in Beijing, China, on Sept. 9, 2021. (Huang Jingwen/Xinhua via AP)

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- China has submitted an application to become a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, the Commerce Ministry said Thursday, in a move that would have a significant impact on trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

    But it remains uncertain whether China will be allowed to join the free trade pact, formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, as it would require unanimous approval from the 11 member countries.

    China's bid to take part in the TPP is seen as an attempt to increase its clout in the Asia-Pacific region as the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden, who prioritizes multilateralism in diplomacy, remains cautious about returning to the treaty.

    If China joins the TPP, the gross domestic product by participant economies would account for around 30 percent of global GDP, compared with over 10 percent by current members.

    The trade pact, from which the United States withdrew in January 2017, is widely seen as being aimed at countering China's growing economic influence.

    The existing TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

    According to the Chinese ministry, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao and Damien O'Connor, New Zealand's trade and export minister, spoke on the phone to discuss necessary procedures.

    In November last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country would seriously consider participating in the TPP during the summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

    In March, the Chinese government also said it had formally ratified the world's largest free trade deal, a pact signed last year by 15 Asia-Pacific countries, including Japan, South Korea and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

    The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership involves ASEAN, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

    China, which had criticized former U.S. President Donald Trump as dividing the Asia-Pacific region by pursuing protectionist trade policies under his "America First" agenda, has been attempting to bolster its clout in the region, foreign affairs experts say.

    Japan, a leading economy in the TPP, has said complying with high-standard rules would be a prerequisite for China to enter negotiations toward participating in the free trade pact.

    Compared with some advanced countries such as Japan, China falls behind in liberalizing market access while the Asian economic powerhouse faces other obstacles, such as reforms of preferential treatment for state-run companies and state subsidies to meet the standard shared among TPP members.

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