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Race On As Beijing And Taipei Vie For Trans-Pacific Trade Bloc Membership

Taipei applies to Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on Wednesday, following bids by Britain and Beijing 'China has long tried all it could to squeeze Taiwan's international space," says island's top trade negotiator John Deng

Race On As Beijing And Taipei Vie For Trans-Pacific Trade Bloc Membership

Beijing's application to join a trans-Pacific trade pact could undermine Taiwan's chances of gaining access to the regional bloc if Beijing becomes a member ahead of the self-ruled island.

But Taiwanese officials said such a development remained to be seen given the opaque and restrictive structure of the mainland's market system.

Taipei officially submitted its application on Wednesday to join the now 11-member Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) under the name "the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (Chinese Taipei)" - a title it used in the World Trade Organization, of which Beijing is also a member.

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The submission of the application to New Zealand, the depository nation of the agreement, came after Beijing made the same request on September 16, prompting concerns in Taiwan that the island might be barred from joining if the mainland was accepted before Taipei was.

Taiwan's top trade negotiator John Deng did not rule out the possibility.

"China has long tried all it could to squeeze Taiwan's international space and this is a known fact. So if it joined CPTPP ahead of [us], it would pose certain risk to [our accession] to the trade bloc," he said in Taipei on Thursday announcing the island's CPTPP bid.

But he stressed Taiwan should have a better chance of joining the group, given that Taiwan was a free market with transparent policies and the rule of law.

He said the CPTPP had a much stricter requirement than that of the WTO when it came to legal and market systems. "Our systems are more transparent and we respect ownership of private assets," Deng said.

Deng said Taiwan was applying to join the bloc under the name of the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu because the island had been using this title to seek to join global trade blocs.

"Though Taiwan is a sovereignty independent … in the trade area, we have used this title at the WTO and have also used this title to sign bilateral trade agreements with New Zealand and Singapore," Deng said.

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Also on Thursday, Taiwanese foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said that whether Beijing could meet the strict CPTPP requirements for a free and open economic system remained in question.

"CPTPP member states have many times said they would neither lower or relax the criteria for membership because of the accession of a new member," she said.

New Zealand confirmed that it had received a formal request from "Chinese Taipei" - the short form the WTO uses to refer to the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.

"New Zealand as depository for the CPTPP will share Chinese Taipei's accession request with other CPTPP signatories," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

Chinese Taipei was the third economy to formally request to accede to the CPTPP, following Britain's request in February and Beijing's request last week, the official said, adding that the next step was for the CPTPP group as a whole - through the CPTPP Commission - to decide whether to start the accession processes with Chinese Taipei.

On Thursday, Japan, the CPTPP's chair this year, welcomed Taiwan's application to join the trade deal, Kyodo news agency reported.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi described Taiwan as an "extremely important partner of Japan" that shared basic values such as the rule of law.

He said Tokyo would respond to the island's bid "based on a strategic point of view and with the public's understanding".

Zhu Fenglian said, Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office spokeswoman, said on September 8 that China was strongly opposed to countries that had diplomatic relations with China signing any official agreements with Taiwan that might suggest the island had sovereignty.

She added that recognition of the one-China policy was a necessary condition for Taiwan to take part in regional economic cooperation.

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Originally known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the formerly 12-member deal was once promoted by the United States as an economic counterweight to mainland China's growing economic influence, but was put on hold in early 2017 after the then-US president Donald Trump abandoned it, saying the US should not engage in any multilateral trade deal that could undermine jobs for Americans.

The regrouping of the pact now links Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Britain is also keen to join the trade group and began negotiations in June. But the United States is yet to make a clear indication if it will join the group.

Additional reporting by Linda Lew

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