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The United Kingdom decided to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) earlier in July after two years of discussions, with full ratification anticipated in 2024. The U.K. will thus become the first new and first non-Pacific member of the pact, joining Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. With this, the United Kingdom advances a key objective of its “Indo-Pacific Shift,” a post-Brexit strategy to increase its ties to the Indo-Pacific area. The union is expected to be fruitful because British membership will help the U.K. in many ways and strengthen the CPTPP’s position in economic cooperation at a trying time.
The UK’s Indo-Pacific Shift
A flexible foreign policy that would increase Britain’s economic and political presence around the world has long been a promise of the conservative argument for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU). The government’s primary foreign policy document, the first post-Brexit Integrated Strategic Review 2021, outlined a vision for a “Global Britain” that would reenergize long-standing connections, in part through an “Indo-Pacific tilt” that prioritizes political and economic ties with this region.
The shift has since produced real political gains, such as improved dialogue connections with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the AUKUS defense pact with Australia and the US, but its economic prospects have proven crucial in the wake of Brexit. Recent official and academic estimates suggest that the UK’s exit from the EU reduced GDP by 2%–3% and hurt trade; a recent IMF report calls for significant measures to boost investor and corporate confidence. In this context, expanding economic and financial ties with Asia is appealing.
To do this, the government ratified 33 extensive “continuity” agreements within 11 months of Brexit, replacing EU free trade agreements (FTAs) that the U.K. would have otherwise lost, and launched new bilateral FTAs with Japan (2021), Australia, and New Zealand (2023). The tilt, which includes joining the CPTPP, has now endured two changes in administration (unlike the slogan “Global Britain”) and received top honors in the Integrated Review Refresh 2023.
However, joining the CPTPP won’t make up for the losses of leaving the EU, by far the U.K.’s most significant trading partner. It will only enhance past trade attempts and provide a foundation for future gains. A slight increase in GDP of 2.0 billion pounds ($2.4 billion), or 0.06% of its anticipated level in 2040, and an increase in bilateral trade with CPTPP nations of 4.9 billion pounds ($6.0 billion), or 3.9%, are the gains estimated by the government from the CPTPP.
Future prospects of ‘the CPTPP’ and ‘the shift’
The CPTPP, which sets the bar for other regional agreements and international standards, is likely the most comprehensive FTA in the world. The UK’s admission and the expanding number of candidates make additional enlargements possible. The rewards for joining are increasing, and early applicants will benefit from better economic outcomes and have a greater voice in the agreement’s changing membership and content.
Members may also choose to amend dated laws, especially those related to the digital economy, which is of considerable significance to all five of the aforementioned economies. Such interest is indicated by the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which the United States established in the absence of trade agreements. A quiet but active conversation is taking place.
One cannot anticipate immediate, extensive benefits. Even the Indo-Pacific slant might not endure additional changes for the British government. However, the dynamic that ‘the CPTPP’ and ‘the shift’ created needs to persist, creating a foundation for more cooperation.