The United Kingdom threw a spanner at US President Donald Trump with its plans to start talks on joining the feeble Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a global trade and investment deal that the US rejected last year.
With reports that Britain maybe in talks to join TPP, it shows that the country is search of a solid anchor after failing to get anything from the EU on its Brexit deals.
The BBC said today that Britain is actually looking to join the TPP as part of its efforts to map out its trade future after Brexit, some trade experts who argue it’s unlikely to lead to a deal – and even if it did happen, the UK would not have much clout.
But one aspect of this push by the Brits is that it would give the world a new sense of belonging to group trade deals, the ones that the Americans are trying to dismantle across the globe with their ‘solo’ deals.
The Financial Times yesterday said UK Ministers have held informal talks on joining the proposed free trade group that includes 11 countries bordering the Pacific Ocean.
Japan, Malaysia and to some extent Singapore and Vietnam (all members of the TPP) are trying to keep the trade deal alive while waiting for the Trump to change his mind, or for a change of leadership in the US.
However, the current UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has not ruled out the UK joining the TPP.
The UK in the TPP would be a boost to some of the 11 member nations, but the advantages may be limited for the Asean member states within the TPP such as Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei. These countries have established trade deals with the UK.
In earlier reports, Fox said any new agreements with the Asean will only be made after monitoring the development and growth of the region, and considering what sort of trading agreements are suitable.
Fox also said the country is looking to broaden its trade deals with other countries on the basis of working together to ensure that there is even greater openness.
“Perhaps that does not require any FTA to provide those opportunities. The US, New Zealand and Australia have expressed interest and now we have to focus on what will come after that once we actually leave (the EU), he said.
New Zealand and Australia are both members of the TPP. With them expressing their interest to broaden trade deals with the UK, there is little the TPP could bring to Great Britain indeed.
Nevertheless, it is a marked differentiation in the UK’s approach to trade deals and that of Mr Trump, who has dismissed any ‘group’ deals and is focusing on FTA’s and one-on-one talks in which Washington will have the upper hands.
The UK’s decision to give the TPP a chance is a sign of deepening weakness in London’s global strategy with Brexit shaping up.
A Malaysian research house, MIDF Research, said the UK’s attempt to enter the troubled TPP is to help London boost its exports.
Yet the research house did not expand on the current British-Malaysian trade, which would have given a sense to the need for the UK or the need for Malaysia to support or not to support Britain in its attempt to enter the TPP.
MIDF said if the proposals go ahead Britain would be the first member of the trade agreement which does not have borders on the Pacific Ocean or the South China Sea.
Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade is believed to be developing the proposals to join the failed trade pact which is regrouping after it lost the United States, its largest member.
The 11 remaining member states include, Mexico, Brunei and Canada (besides the other states mentioned above).
Trade minister Greg Hands told the Financial Times there was no geographical restriction on Britain joining trade groups.
“Nothing is excluded in all of this,” he said. “With these kind of plurilateral relationships, there doesn’t have to be any geographical restriction.”
But to what end?