Second-largest economy’s accession to CPTPP would prove mutually beneficial

Nearly two years after China officially submitted its application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership in September 2021, the time is ripe for the country to become a member at an early date.

That message was conveyed by Vice-Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen, who said at a news conference on Sunday that China is both ready and qualified to join this high-standard regional free trade deal. He expressed the hope that all 11 CPTPP members will support China's accession, which requires a consensus among all existing signatories.

The early entry that China is seeking has gained a sense of urgency given the rising protectionist tendencies worldwide, as well as the United States-orchestrated decoupling attempts targeting China.

The fact that the gap between the country's domestic investment and trade policies and the CPTPP rules has narrowed markedly over the years, as it seeks to promote trade liberalization and deepen economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, justifies China's effort to fast track its membership of the trade bloc. This has been evidenced by the pilot projects and experiments China has carried out in some pilot free trade zones and the Hainan free trade port in accordance with CPTPP rules, standards and management obligations.

Indeed, there is no reason for the trade bloc to prolong the approval process for China given the huge benefits the inclusion of the world's second-largest economy is likely to bring to all CPTPP members, as well as the boost its joining would give to the economic recovery of the Asia-Pacific region and the world as a whole. As Wang pointed out, China's membership would mean that the consumer base of CPTPP countries, which now stands at 495 million people, would triple, providing huge market access opportunity to all members.

Also, as the CPTPP now accounts for nearly 13 percent of the world's GDP, China's accession would increase the ratio to around 30 percent, making it the world's largest trade deal. China's participation would also make the regional industry and supply chains more efficient and resilient.

While CPTPP membership would provide Chinese businesses with wider market access to countries that do not have formal free trade deals with China, it would also bring a lot of challenges to the country, especially in terms of issues related to the State-owned enterprises, intellectual property rights, labor and the environment, mainly because of the highly demanding provisions of the CPTPP. To meet those challenges, the country needs to continue to carry out reforms to realize high-standard opening-up and pursue high-quality development. Fast-tracking the accession of China would be a meaningful vote of confidence in inclusive multilateralism.