Britain’s main opposition Labour party has called on the government to veto China’s bid to join a trans-Pacific trade agreement once the UK itself is admitted to the pact.
The UK applied on Feb. 1 to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a landmark 11-country trade deal that includes Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, and Peru.
China submitted an application for CPTPP membership on Sept. 16. Four days later, on Sept. 20, Taiwan also formally applied to join the pact.
Talking at a session on foreign policy in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said that China’s application leaves open the prospect that the UK might be “entering into preferential trade arrangements with countries who commit genocide.”
British lawmakers had “made clear our view that what’s happening in Xinjiang constitutes genocide,” she said, referring to the Chinese regime’s mass internment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in northwest China.
The UK Parliament on April 22 unanimously passed a non-binding motion declaring that Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities were suffering crimes against humanity and genocide, and called on the UK government to use international law to bring it to an end.
Nandy asked Foreign Secretary Liz Truss if she could “guarantee that she will veto China’s membership” if the application is successful.
In response, Truss said she had raised the “terrible atrocities that are taking place in Xinjiang” with the Chinese foreign minister, as well as UK concerns over Hong Kong.
She told the Commons: “It is important that we trade with China, but we need to make sure it’s reliable trade, that it avoids strategic dependency and that it doesn’t involve the violation of intellectual property rights or forced technology transfer and I urge China to respect the rules of the WTO.”
Truss said the UK does not have the right to make decisions as it is not yet a member. But she said she is “very clear that any country that enters the CPTPP needs to follow its high rules and standards including high environmental standards and labour standards.”
Prospective members (including the UK and Thailand) can gain entry only with unanimous support from all pact members.
But both Australia and Japan have expressed reluctance at the possibility of China joining the group due to its use of economic coercion against other nations.
Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said last month China could not join the CPTPP until members were convinced of a “track record of compliance” with existing trade and WTO agreements.
Japanese Economic Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said it is necessary to determine whether China is ready to meet the pact’s “extremely high standards.”
Daniel Y. Teng and PA contributed to this report.