UK Trade and Foreign Policy Pivots Towards the Pacific with CPTPP Membership Application

In May 2019, the UK government added the following countries to its electronic gates; Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore and the USA in addition to the EU and EEA countries which had previous access to its electronic gates. These are countries the “Foreign and Commonwealth office” deemed low risk for visa-overstaying and are the countries the British government has primarily been focusing agreeing free trade deals with.

Recently the British government have announced that it has secured a free trade agreement with Japan, a like-minded island nation. This Free Trade Agreement (FTA) unlike the one negotiated between the EU and Japan is unhindered by conflicting requirements from each EU member state and has been tailored to the UK. It includes cutting-edge digital & data provisions, improved market access for UK financial services, protections for creative industries in other words favours the UKs service based economy. It also includes tariff free access for more UK goods, protections for iconic UK goods, improved business mobility, support for UK car and rail manufacturing, more generous access for malt producers and strong tariff reductions for UK pork and beef exports.

Japan had wanted to complete its custom Free Trade Agreement with the UK before giving the green light for UK accession to the Comprehensive and Partnership for Trans-Pacific Trade (CPTPP). The CPTPP contains Canada and Mexico (North America), Peru and Chile (South America), Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Vietnam (Asia-Pacific). Euro-centric Brexit critics have been quick to point out that the UK is itself not geographically situated in the Pacific Ocean however the CPTPP contains a number of countries the UK has long lasting historic, cultural, diplomatic and political ties to. In North America, the UK works particularly closely with Canada. Canada and the United Kingdom enjoy a close-knit and multifaceted defence partnership that dates back several centuries. The UK and Canada work closely together in several international bodies such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the Group of 7 (G7), the Group of 20 (G20) and the Commonwealth. In the Asia-Pacific region, the UK is also closely knit with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore, which form the Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA) and these other countries have been very vocal for a renewed British involvement in the Asia-Pacific. In South America, Chile was one of the first countries to sign a continuity agreement with the UK government.

The CPTPP practically eliminates tariffs between the 11 (soon to be 12) CPTPP members and provides a single set of rules of origin. The CPTPP also allows content from all CPTPP countries to be cumulative encouraging industrial collaboration between the CPTPP members. This will facilitate collaboration with major industries between the UK and the other CPTPP members. The foundation behind many major industries is already in place. Even outwith CPTPP and subjugated to EU quotas and tariffs the UK traded more with the rest of the world than the EU27. The industrial links between the UK and the CPTPP are already substantial for example Airbus (Canada), Nissan (Japan), BAE Systems (Australia), Dyson (Singapore).

While the CPTPP acts to facilitate the relationship between all CPTPP countries, it also recognises that each country has its own strategic interests and that each country has a different relationship with the other countries within and out with the CPTPP and does not try and pull all the relations between the countries and outside countries to the lowest common denominator. This pragmatic and flexible approach is much more in line with the British public. It is exactly what the British government tried and failed to renegotiate prior to the EU referendum. The words of the UK government fell on the deaf ears of the arrogant European Commission. This led to 17,410,742 (52 %) Brits opting to leave the EU while 16,141,241 (48 %) opted to remain. This secured a Leave majority of 1,269,501 (4 %) over Remain. The CPTPP is far more pragmatic and flexible than other trade blocks such as the EU.

Within the CPTPP one of the strongest bilateral relationship within the CPTPP is the Australia-New Zealand relationship. These countries share a historic bond, a common language, a common law political system, similar healthcare systems, comparable living standards and comparable low level of crime rates. Australia and New Zealand are both signatories to the Closer Economic Relations (CER) the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement (TTTA) which allows near freedom of movement subject to criminal checks and initial restrictions on social security claims.

The Australia foreign office country profile states that the United Kingdom is the most like minded country to Australia in the world (with the exception to New Zealand) and polls by the Australian Lowy Institute consistently highlight the UK as begin the most trusted world power in Australia with Australia’s favourite countries being New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom. This sentiment has been mirrored consistently by a series of YouGov polls.

Prominent senators in Australia have been very vocal about the opportunities available for Australia due to Brexit and the Australian tourist board has recently focused particularly on the United Kingdom with the “MateSong” advertisement campaign. It is no surprise that Australia is the country that the British public, particularly those who voted Brexit are most excited about negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with. Australian Liberal Senator James Paterson has stated that “Australia will welcome the return of a global Britain. Australia and the UK share unparalleled historical, cultural, legal and familial ties dating back to 1788. There is now an opportunity to strengthen these ties in the short term through a comprehensive free trade agreement that will remove barriers to trade, in the medium term provide the basis for greater economic integration, and in the longer term provide the foundation for an ambitious wider CANZUK agreement involving the commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. The UK-Australia relationship should be modelled on the Australia-New Zealand agreements: the Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement that provides a deep economic relationship through mutual recognition and the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement (TTTA) that provides the ability to work, live and study across countries.”

Former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also stated that “A full economic partnership between Britain and Australia – restoring the almost completely unrestricted commerce that we enjoyed for 150 years, and allowing Britons and Australians, once again, properly to experience each other’s wonderful countries and lives – would be about the best Christmas present our two countries could have”. He has also stated that he would be keen to contribute his expertise and has joined the new UK Board of Trade alongside Daniel Hannan who has previously described “CANZUK as the most popular idea in politics”.

The Australian Liberal Democrats also support this motion and have stated the following on their manifesto: “Currently Australia has a Free Immigration with New Zealand. Likely countries for additional Free Immigration Agreements include Canada, Singapore, Japan, the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands.”

This idea also has popular support in New Zealand with the New Zealand Act Party stating “New Zealand Act Will Pursue a free trade and free movement area between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom (CANZUK)”.

The New Zealand National Party also recently released a press statement stating “New Zealand must secure a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the UK without any trade restriction. New Zealand and the UK have a long history and strong relationship. Our citizens live, work and holiday together and bringing the travel and trade under one agreement will strengthen the relationship further. For this reason, the Government should model the NZ UK FTA on the CER agreement with Australia, our most comprehensive agreement to date, and it should include free movement of people”.

In Canada, the United Kingdom has been polled to be the country that Canadians feel that they have the most positive relationship with. Erin O’Toole has been a prominent CANZUK advocate and pushed forward CANZUK as the flagship, game-changing foreign policy objective at the Canadian Conservative Party Conference in 2018. More recently he has been elected Canadian Conservative Party leader and re-advocated his support for CANZUK stating “I will propose a Canada-Australia-New Zealand-United Kingdom deal that includes: Free trade and flow of capital investment between the partners; Reciprocal freedom to study, live and work for citizens under expanded areas of labour coordination as agreed upon by the parties; and Enhanced defence partnerships, intelligence cooperation and defence production agreements.”