The CPTPP is an 11-country free trade pact that came into force in December 2018 and includes Mexico, Australia, Canada and Singapore. It succeeded the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after the United States withdrew under former President Donald Trump in 2017.
The TPP was negotiated under former US President Barack Obama, who wanted to counterbalance China’s growing clout in the region by imposing US-backed labor, environmental and patent protections.
Chinese officials on Friday boosted the idea of involvement with the CPTPP. Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian called it “conducive to promoting regional economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the economic recovery, trade development and investment growth after the pandemic,” at a press conference.
The agreement cuts tariffs among participants, standardizes regulations in areas such as food safety and determines levels of market access for goods and services, such as visa rules for business travelers, which can vary between members.
But the path forward may not be easy for China, particularly since relations between the country and CPTPP member nation Australia have been worsening.
Australian coal, wine, barley and beef have all already been affected by trade tensions with China, and experts say that defense deal has antagonized Beijing further.
At Friday’s press conference, Zhao, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said that China’s efforts to join the CPTPP have “nothing to do with the US, UK and Australia trilateral agreements.”
“[China] is pushing for economic cooperation and regional integration while the US, the UK and Australia are pushing for war and destruction,” he added.
Even if China were allowed to join the CPTPP, the country may find some aspects of the agreement challenging, said Alex Capri, a research fellow at Hinrich Foundation. He singled out “e-commerce and data standards,” though said China may be able to find loopholes.
“Keep in mind that when the US pulled out, some 20 provisions dealing with data privacy, IP protection and other digital standards were essentially put on hold,” Capri added.
— Hanna Ziady, Ben Westcott and CNN’s Beijing bureau contributed to this report.