The DIT has suggested that Britain should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership—but who's to say that we’d be welcome?by Sam Lowe / January 5, 2018 / Leave a comment
It’s easy to poke fun at Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade. With the UK unable to negotiate new trade agreements until it has left the European Union in 2019, and likely unable to implement any deals it does sign during the subsequent transition period until 2021 at the earliest, why does it exist?
This week it appears that, alongside travelling around the world proclaiming that the British are the saviours of global free trade, it’s for the department’s ministers to make headlines suggesting Britain could join the Trans-Pacific Partnership—that’s a plurilateral trade agreement currently being ironed out by 11 Pacific states including Canada, Japan and Vietnam. (It is distinct from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, which is a proposed trade agreement between the EU and the United States).
Picking holes in the DIT’s proposal isn’t difficult. For one, unless we are planning on assigning far greater significance to the Pitcairn Islands (which form the last British overseas territory in the region) the UK is not a Pacific power, so the name of the trade deal would need to change. Second, joining TPP wouldn’t even come close to compensating for the losses of Brexit. Furthermore, it all appears a bit pointless when you consider that the EU already has trade agreements in place with six of the TPP countries (two awaiting ratification), and is well on course to finalise a deal with its biggest member: Japan.
Yet, you can understand the allure. Taking back control of trade policy was a key demand of those who advocated withdrawal from the EU, thus making the UK’s ability to strike new trade deals a barometer of Brexit’s success. And maybe, just maybe, if we were able to become a member of the biggest ongoing plurilateral trade negotiation in existence, the words “Global Britain” would no longer be used solely as a punchline.
But this brings me to the key question: has anyone bothered to ask whether the so-called Ocean’s Eleven would even want us in their club? Because they’ve got their own problems to deal with.
The TPP, beneath all the talk about benefits from increased trade liberisation, should be first and foremost understood as a geopolitical exercise. With the rise of China…