Taiwan says 'risk' to its Trans-Pacific trade pact application if China joins first

If Taiwan is allowed to join CPTPP, its agriculture and car parts sectors will be dealt a blow. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI - Just days after China applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Taiwan also put in its application for membership, the island confirmed on Thursday (Sept 23).

But its chief trade negotiator John Deng acknowledged a potential political roadblock.

"If China joins first, Taiwan's membership case should be quite risky. This is quite obvious," he told reporters.

China on Thursday voiced its displeasure of Taiwan's application.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: "We are firmly against official exchanges between any country and Taiwan, and are against the Taiwan area joining any official agreements and organisations."

In response, Taipei's foreign ministry said in a statement: "The Chinese government, with its deeds of just wanting to bully Taiwan in the international community, is the culprit for heightened cross-strait hostilities."

Taiwan is excluded from many international bodies because China considers Taiwan a renegade province to be reunified. Beijing firmly opposes any moves that suggest the island is a separate country.

The CPTPP was signed in 2018 by 11 countries - Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam. It is one of the largest trade deals, representing about US$13.5 trillion (S$18.3 trillion), or 13.4 per cent, of the world's gross domestic product.

"Taiwan can't be left out in the world and has to integrate into the regional economy," Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng told reporters.

According to Mr Deng, who is also minister without portfolio, Taiwan applied to the CPTPP using the name "The Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu", which is also the name it is registered under in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), with "Chinese Taipei" being its secondary title.

The island is also a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec), which it joined as "Chinese Taipei".

When asked about the timing of Taiwan's application, Mr Deng said after years of amending its own laws and seeking support from member states, "now is the best time to (apply)."

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Some analysts said Taiwan's decision can be seen as a calculated move to force the pact's members to choose between China and Taiwan.

Like how the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are members of Apec and WTO, it is likely that the CPTPP members will grant both China and Taiwan membership, said Mr Jeremy Chiang, an international relations analyst.

Either "both (will join) or nothing," he said, adding that Taiwan's official title "will likely be contested" and it will join as Chinese Taipei.

The CPTPP member states are to reach a consensus before membership is granted.

Mr Chiang calls Taiwan's application "an interesting manoeuvre to observe".

"Taiwanese allies will have room to push for (Taiwan's) candidacy when using China's application process as leverage," he predicts.

In this case, support from key members that are Taiwan-friendly, such as Japan and Australia, can be a positive influence in the decision process.

"Given how the geopolitical landscape is evolving, some countries will likely be more cautious towards offering China an easy victory (in the application)," he added.

If Taiwan is allowed to join CPTPP, "this would result in a 2 per cent growth in economic benefit, but the agriculture and car parts sectors will be dealt a blow," said Mr Deng, who called the application Taiwan's biggest economic move since becoming a WTO member in 2002.

In the agriculture sector, especially, Taiwan would have to reconsider its current ban on food and agriculture products imported from areas in Japan affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

Japan's Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Thursday in New York that Japan welcomes Taiwan's application to join the trade pact, while stressing that the agreement has strict standards in place, which would test Taiwan's readiness to join.

On Thursday, Taiwanese officials said 24 Chinese planes - including 18 fighter jets and two nuclear-capable bombers - crossed into the island's air defence identification zone. The incursion was the biggest since June 15, which involved 28 Chinese air force aircraft.

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