Geo/Econ Challenged: UK in CPTPP?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 3/31/2023 01:27:00 PM
Second CPTPP Commission Meeting Logo
The UK will soon join this group, but does it really matter?

It has somehow come to pass that the UK has now joined an Asia-Pacific trade agreement. OK, so the free trade agreement in question is not the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership, but rather the US-absent Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Moreover, the Pacific is vast: the world's largest ocean is said to contain over half the world's waters. Still, an undeniable fact is that the UK is not in the Pacific. (The last time I checked, it also belonged to this group called the "North Atlantic Treaty Organization".)

Chalk this oddity up to the Brexiteer pledge that leaving the European Union would somehow leave it better off by signing up to FTAs worldwide, and not just with the UK's neighbors. There are a few things to unpack before getting to the significance of this announcement, so here's a quick recap:

  • The trade-averse US government has continued post-Trump, meaning the US seems to have no intention of (re-)joining CPTPP. 
  • Lacking a firmly "Western" prestige partner, the remaining CPTPP countries likely decided to allow negotiations to proceed with the UK anyway.

Now, to the crux of the matter: are there significant economic benefits to be reaped by the UK from this agreement? The UK government estimates that their economy will gain 0.08% as a result over 10 years. 0.08%. To me that seems to be a rounding error instead of a significant gain. Put it down to the UK already having existing FTAs with most CPTPP members and trading far less with these Asia-Pacific nations than with its European neighbors:

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership - or CPTPP - was established in 2018, and includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Membership of the CPTPP loosens restrictions on trade between members and reduce tariffs - a form of border tax - on goods.

However, the gains for the UK from joining are expected to be modest. The UK already has free trade deals with all of the members except Brunei and Malaysia, some of which were rolled over from its previous membership of the EU. And even with some gains in trading the government only estimates it will add 0.08% to the size of the economy in 10 years. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), which provides forecasts for the government, has previously said Brexit would reduce the UK's potential economic growth by about 4% in the long term.

Simply put, joining CPTPP would only claw back, oh, 2% of the economic output lost from leaving the EU. It's as close to non-news as you can get in the economic realm.