Taiwan’s bid to join the CPTPP is a game-changer not only for Taipei and the future of Indo-Pacific commerce, but also to shift the region’s power dynamics. At the same time, Taiwan’s latest move also intensifies pressure on Washington to reconsider its own stance on trade agreements and multilateralism at large. Whether or not Taiwan can become a member of the CPTPP will largely depend on the political strategy implemented by Taipei, but it will also be a test of how a high-stakes bet in the Indo-Pacific can proceed without the United States. .
Contrary to Beijing’s announcement just a week before Taiwan’s official declaration calling for CPTPP membership, Taipei has always clearly expressed its interest in joining the multilateral trade bloc. In fact, Taiwan has signaled its desire to join since the first incarnation of the agreement as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. As was the case with the TPP, the door has always been open for Taiwan to join the CPTPP. In the last chapter of the TPP, for example, Article 30.4 on membership states that “any state or separate customs territory that is a member of APEC” would be eligible for membership as long as it is able to comply with the requirements. pact rules. This in theory paves the way for Taiwan to join, given that it is a member of APEC.
At the same time, Taiwan has stepped up its efforts to secure a bilateral trade deal with the United States, which it would need separately, as Washington remains outside the multilateral trade agreement. As a result, the government of Taiwan has taken a number of steps that have been unpopular internally, especially in the agricultural sector, to prepare for membership. The decision to open up to US pork and beef imports has come under particularly severe attack from consumer groups as well as opposition parties. In fact, a referendum will be held on December 18 to ask voters whether pork containing the additive ractopamine should be banned.
With the latest announcement of the CPTPP by the government of President Tsai Ing-wen, who is herself a seasoned trade negotiator, the ruling party can assert that opening up Taiwan’s agricultural market is not only essential to the pursuit of trade negotiations with the United States, but also necessary for Taiwan to become an integral part of the global business community in the future.
Because unlike mainland China, which had announced its request to join the CPTPP only a week earlier, Taiwan’s need to join the trade agreement is primarily motivated by considerations for its economic future. As analysts question the intent and seriousness of China’s candidacy, given the concessions and reforms it would have to make to ensure it becomes ready for membership, the Taiwanese government has demonstrated its willingness to take unpopular political action as the price to pay for signing trade deals.
After all, while the Taiwanese economy may be booming for now, the risks of further political marginalization in light of Beijing’s ever-growing influence, coupled with the limits of its own economic growth, pose challenges. problems for the future.
Currently, the Taiwanese economy continues to strengthen, with the government forecasting that GDP growth for this year will reach nearly 6%, its highest level in 11 years. Growing global demand for high-capacity semiconductors, dominated by local companies such as TSMC, is expected to continue to drive the economic engine for years to come.
But as other countries seek to strengthen their own semiconductor supply chain, Taiwan is under increasing pressure to leverage its current advantages in order to diversify into other technological sectors and also advance in the international trade order at a time when the Indo-Pacific is home to not only the CPTPP, but also the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership Agreement, which Taiwan has yet to accede to. With more countries besides Britain and China expected to declare their intention to join the CPTPP, Taiwan cannot afford to stay on the sidelines of the world’s highest trade deal to date, which deals with non-tariff barriers as well as problems. essential to the digital economy.
Yet even though Taipei is much more ready to join than Beijing, China has already protested loudly against Taiwan’s intentions, declaring that it is politically unacceptable for Taiwan to join the CPTPP. While other member countries, including Japan, Australia and Canada, have expressed support for Taiwan’s candidacy to join the pact, the prospect of accepting Taiwan without China remains fragile. Even the possibility of Taiwan and China joining the pact simultaneously – as was the case two decades ago when the two governments joined the WTO at the same time – seems more difficult to imagine, given the changing dynamics. power in favor of China since 2001. But whatever decision is made regarding the accession of China and Taiwan, one thing is clear: the United States will not be part of the decision-making process, and it will not be part of the decision-making process. nor the ability to lobby for Taipei’s membership behind the scenes at a time when the Indo-Pacific regional order is changing.
How and if Taiwan can join the CPTPP in the face of China’s anger will be a test of the willingness of small Indo-Pacific countries to define strategic relations with Beijing without the United States.