China’s commerce minister has indicated the country’s desire to be part of a trade deal initially formed to counter its own influence.

Minister Wang Wentao placed China’s application with New Zealand trade minister Damien O’Connor, although the country will have to face the scrutiny of Japan before being admitted.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes 11 nations, including Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Japan and Canada, is a free trade agreement that represents just over 13% of the world’s economy.

Former President Barack Obama led the implementation of the trade agreement in 2016, then known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as a means to counter China’s economic dominance in the region. Before it could be implemented, however, his successor Donald Trump exited negotiations in 2017.

Japan, as the chair of the CPATPP, would consult its membership on China’s application before letting it in.

Leaders of the 12 member nations that would have been represented in the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2016, before President Donald Trump withdrew his support in 2017. Gobierno de Chile via Wikimedia Commons

“Japan believes that it’s necessary to determine whether China, which submitted a request to join the TPP-11, is ready to meet its extremely high standards,” said Japanese economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.

China had hinted at potentially applying to the CPTPP in May 2020, though President Xi Jinping said the country would “favorably consider joining” the pact at last year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

The CPTPP aims to cut tariffs and streamline trade among its members, as well as various other mechanisms for streamlining trade between the nations.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told Reuters that “we would expect that China’s non-market trade practices and China’s use of economic coercion against other countries would factor into CPTPP parties’ evaluation of China as a potential candidate for accession.”

Taiwan, which has been lobbying to join the Pacific pact, questioned the timing of China’s application and whether it would meet the CPTPP’s standards.

“Recently, China has repeatedly interfered with the economy in highly illiberal ways, heightened surveillance, reduced transparency and even banned imports without proper cause,” said Wang Mei-hua, Taiwan minister of economic affairs.

Though the U.S. withdrew in 2017, President Joe Biden has rejoined both the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization since coming into office and speculation surrounds his plans for CTPP. In 2019, as vice president, Biden had backed the TPP, saying “the idea behind it was a good one.” During the primaries of the past election, he said he might attempt a renegotiation of terms in line with his fellow Democrat’s concerns.

“When it comes to trade, either we’re going to write the rules of the road for the world or China is — and not in a way that advances our values. That’s what happened when we backed out of TPP — we put China in the driver’s seat,” he told the Council for Foreign Policy.

The United Kingdom was accepted into the trade agreement earlier this year.

At the first CPTPP meeting in 2019, Singapore’s trade and industry minister Chan Chun Sing said: “We run a very transparent process … anyone who can meet the high standards of the agreement, anyone who can adhere to it, will be welcome to join.”

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