Trans-Pacific trade deal members meet at APEC summit, say open to new members

By David Lawder

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Trade ministers from members of an Asian free trade pact abandoned by the United States affirmed on Wednesday a desire for more countries to join the bloc if they can meet its standards.

The officials from the 12 Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) countries met in San Francisco just after trade negotiations for the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) initiative ground to a halt without an agreement this week.

The lack of an IPEF trade deal is a setback for the Biden administration. It had aimed to showcase the initiative during this week’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco as a symbol of its economic re-engagement in Asia, providing countries a counterweight to China’s growing clout in the region.

The CPTPP is the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, from which former President Donald Trump withdrew as soon as he took office in 2017.

The CPTPP meeting on the sidelines of the APEC leaders’ summit was the first ministerial to include new member Britain, which signed up to the trade bloc in July.

In a joint statement posted on the UK trade ministry website, the ministers “reaffirmed that the CPTPP is open to accession requests by economies that are ready to meet the high standards of the agreement and have a demonstrated pattern of complying with trade commitments.”

The statement made no mention of China’s application to join the bloc, nor applications by Taiwan, Costa Rica and Ecuador.

It said accession decisions are dependent upon consensus, and since July, they have been “gathering information on whether aspirant economies can meet CPTPP’s high standards.”

Information collected to date “will not prejudge any process, outcome, decision and/or actions to be taken by CPTPP members,” it said, adding that the bloc would apply lessons learned in the UK accession.

The current CPTPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam. Most overlap with both APEC and the IPEF initiative.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)