China applies to join trans-Pacific free-trade pact

·2-min read

China has formally applied to join a major trans-Pacific trade partnership, its commerce ministry said late Thursday, despite rising geopolitical tensions with member country Australia.

Signed by 11 Asia-Pacific countries in 2018, the partnership is the region's biggest free-trade pact and accounts for around 13.5 percent of the global economy.

"On September 16, Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao submitted China's official application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)," the ministry said in an online statement.

It added the application was submitted via a letter to New Zealand's trade minister Damien O'Connor and that both Wentao and O'Connor had a phone conversation about follow-up work for China's membership application.

China had already signalled interest in joining the CPTPP multiple times, with Premier Li Keqiang saying in March that the world's second-largest economy "will actively consider joining".

The CPTPP is the successor to a previous trans-Pacific trade pact that the United States withdrew from under Donald Trump in 2017.

The Chinese Embassy of Australia this week lobbied Canberra to join, writing to an Australian parliamentary inquiry that "China's accession to the CPTPP would yield large economic benefits," Bloomberg reported.

However, all eleven members of the CPTPP would need to reach a consensus to allow Beijing to join -- a tricky prospect during the tumultuous geopolitical dispute with Canberra that has seen China impose tariffs on a range of Australian goods including wine and barley.

Australia asked the WTO on Thursday to rule against tariffs on wine exports to what was once its largest market.

On Wednesday, Canberra unveiled a strategic military partnership with the US and UK that would provide it with nuclear-armed submarines in a bid to counter Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific.

China blasted the alliance as "extremely irresponsible".

Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday that "the export of highly sensitive nuclear submarine technology to Australia by the US and the UK proves once again that they are using nuclear exports as a tool for geopolitical game and adopting double standards."

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