Same old Labour! Shadow minister mocks CPTPP move in blatant Brexit snub
UK 'pleased with progress on CPTPP' says Lord Grimstone
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Speaking at a fringe event hosted by Policy Exchange at the Labour Party Conference, Bill Esterson drew a comparison between Brexit and the Government’s intention to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). He said: “I don’t think the irony is lost on anyone that we left the European Union in large part to take back control, because as members of a club of 28 we only had one twenty-eighth say, and now we are proposing to join a training bloc as rule takers.”
He added that CPTPP was “an existing trading agreement where, from what the Government has told us, they have very little intention… to influence renegotiation of its chapters”.
Mr Esterson also claimed that joining the bloc may threaten a “deal with China through the back door” as the Asian nation was “more serious about joining CPTPP than perhaps some people realised”.
China formally applied to join CPTPP two weeks ago, with Chinese President Xi Jinping telling an APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting that “together, we can build an Asia-Pacific community with a shared future featuring openness and inclusiveness, innovation-driven growth, greater connectivity, and mutually beneficial cooperation”.
However, as Japan, Australia and Canada – who all view China as a strategic threat – are already members of the free trade bloc, its bid is unlikely to succeed, say analysts.
Mr Esterson added that “there are concerns about […] the threat from cheap imports from countries like Vietnam – which also, by the way, is already a route for Chinese goods made by forced labour.”
Textiles produced using forced Uighur labour in the Xinyang province of China are reportedly being used by factories in countries such as Vietnam to make clothing, which are then sold on to Western consumers.
Shadow minister for Asia and Pacific, Stephen Kinnock – who was also on the panel – said that the human rights violations against the Uighur people and in Hong Kong by the Chinese government were “completely unacceptable”.
He added: “The United Kingdom must stand up with its democratic allies against these violations and these abuses of human rights.”
Mr Kinnock appeared to take a softer view on the Government’s intention to join CPTPP, stating: “Trade is good and trade is important; it must be free trade, but it must also be fair.”
He intimated that, when it came to China, “we’re not in a Cold War situation”.
“The Cold War was very much about the Soviet Union, broadly speaking, being ringfenced from the rest of the world and the economy.
“That is patently not the case with China. We are deeply entwined with the Chinese economy – like it or not.
“China plays a vitally important role in global commerce and industry, and that is why this is a completely different situation to the cold war.
“What that requires, then, not a China policy based on a cold war mentality, but a China policy based on a clear-eyed and hard-headed understanding of what China is, what it wishes to become and what that means for the democratic countries of the world.”
Meanwhile, Australian High Commissioner to the UK George Brandis said that when it came to shaping foreign policy, “trade often goes first, because it is often trade agreements that open the path for strategic appraisals.”
However, Mr Esterson pointed out that the UK had already signed trade agreements with seven of the 11 nations that currently make up CPTPP, suggesting joining the trading bloc would bring little economic benefit.
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The Government announced in June that negotiations to join CPTPP – a free trade agreement between eleven pacific nations including New Zealand, Japan, and Mexico – had begun.
It formally applied to become part of the trading bloc in February this year – following the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Last Friday, International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said that Japan had confirmed that the first official trade talks to join the CPTPP bloc would begin this week.
She tweeted that she was “looking forward to getting stuck into trade negotiations with this dynamic group of countries and seizing the opportunities that CPTPP will bring the UK”.
According to the Government, in 2019 exports of goods and services to CPTPP nations from the UK amounted to £58bn – or 8.4 percent of all UK exports.
Meanwhile, imports from CPTPP nations were £53bn – or 7.3 percent of the UK’s total.
The Government said it “believes that joining CPTPP would increase trade and investment opportunities for the UK in a fast-growing region.
“It would strengthen ties with international allies and signal the UK’s commitment to free trade.”
Mr Brandis noted that Australia “welcomes and supports” the UK’s accession to CPTPP, as it would be “plainly beneficial to the United Kingdom in a narrowly commercial sense”.
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