Australian inquiry backs Taiwan CPTPP accession but doesn't do the same for China

Accession of Taiwan into the CPTPP could also lead to a bilateral free trade agreement between Australia and Taiwan, an Australian inquiry has concluded.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

Australia's parliamentary body tasked with analysing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has come out in full support of extending the pact's membership to Taiwan.

In a report about expanding CPTPP membership, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade said the Australian government along with other pact members should facilitate Taiwan's accession to the pact.

The committee explained it supported Taiwan's accession, in spite of China's disapproval, as it is one of the "very few major markets" that Australia has not entered a free trade agreement with.

In light of the lack of a free trade agreement between Australia and Taiwan, the committee said Australia should also consider concurrently negotiating a bilateral with the Taiwanese government.

The committee made this recommendation as Australia has seen benefits from adopting a similar approach with the UK previously. The committee also said that such agreements would allow the Australian government to learn from Taiwan when it comes to how to both counter disinformation campaigns and build a better cybercapacity in countering illegitimate or unsolicited attacks.

When it came to China's potential accession into the CPTPP, the committee did not give the same glowing review.

It said that any support for China to enter the pact would require the country to re-establish full trading relations with Australia, including "ending its coercive trade measures and reengaging in ministerial dialogue, and to demonstrate an ability and willingness to commit to the CPTPP's high standards".

"The ball is in their court," said Ted O'Brien, Liberal MP and committee member.

"It's up to China if it wishes to re-engage with Australia and I hope it does because that would enable the discussions that are necessary to determine whether an accession process should commence."

Currently, Beijing has measures in place that limit Australia's export of goods such as barley, coal, copper ores and concentrates, cotton, hay, logs, rock lobsters, sugar, and wine to China.

Tensions between Australia and China has grown steadily over the past two years, with Australia, alongside the UK and US, in September announcing a trilateral security pact -- AUKUS -- aimed at addressing the defence and security concerns posed by China within the Indo-Pacific region.

At the time, although China was not mentioned when announcing AUKUS, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Indo-Pacific region was increasingly becoming "more complex". 

For the inquiry's report, much like Morrison's AUKUS announcement, the committee stressed the federal government should prioritise supporting an "open, transparent and stable trading environment in the Indo-Pacific" when considering whether to allow states such as China to accede into the pact.

Current members of the CPTPP include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Outside of China and Taiwan, the United Kingdom has also submitted a formal request to join the CPTPP, and a working group for that accession application has been established. South Korea is also considering joining the trade pact.

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