Taiwan has submitted an application to join a Pacific trade deal, just days after China sent its own request to become a member of the agreement which was once pushed by the U.S. as a way to isolate Beijing and solidify American dominance in the region.
The Taiwanese application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership was sent to New Zealand, according to two people familiar with the situation. Taiwan’s government will announce the decision Thursday morning, according to one of the people.
Taiwan already has free-trade deals with two of the members - New Zealand and Singapore - and has been working toward joining the trade agreement for years, with President Tsai Ing-wen making it a key goal for her final term in office. However, China opposes any move to deal openly with Taiwan, which will make the discussions between Beijing, Taipei and the 11 member nations difficult.
In an interview last month, Tsai said the main obstacles to Taiwan joining would be political, as some of the member nations didn’t have diplomatic relations with the island. However, Japan and other nations with which Taiwan had close ties had already said they supported any application, she said.
Tsai’s government, which views Taiwan as an already de facto sovereign nation, has made building out support from democratic allies in the region a crucial part of its efforts to counter rising pressure from Beijing. That includes closer ties with CPTPP members such as Australia, which is in the midst of a trade dispute with China, and Japan, which is a key trading partner and the largest economy in CPTPP. Lawmakers from Japan’s ruling party last month backed Taiwan’s entry into the deal.
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After China announced it’s bid last week, Taipei’s Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua told reporters that China had surprised CPTPP members with its sudden bid, adding that there were concerns whether China could meet the deal’s high standards.
Australia also reacted cautiously to China’s application, noting that any applicant would need “a track record of compliance with its commitments in the WTO and existing trade agreements,” according to a statement from Trade Minister Dan Tehan. Australia is currently suing China at the World Trade Organization over tariffs on barley and wine.
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Taiwan’s government will explain any developments in due course, the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman Joanne Ou said via text message, without confirming or denying the application.
New Zealand is the depositary nation for the deal. It had received Taiwan’s application and will share it with the other CPTPP members, the country’s foreign affairs ministry said in an email Thursday.