WELLINGTON, RAW – China has filed an application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the country’s commerce ministry says.

Commerce Minister Wang Wentao submitted China’s application to join the free trade agreement in a letter to New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O’Connor, the Chinese ministry said in a statement.

New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said he welcomed the application.

“We welcome any countries wanting to join in a high functioning trade agreement, he said in Wellington on Friday.

“It’s not just China has expressed interest in this. Other countries have in the past.

“This is a very solid regional agreement that New Zealand exporters benefit from anything we can do to enhance our rules-based trade system around the world, we’ve always happy to take a look at.

“Any country wanting to join the CPTPP obviously has to sign up to the rules within it”

The CPTPP was signed by 11 countries including Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan and New Zealand in 2018.

Before that, it was known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and seen as an important economic counterweight to China’s regional influence.

It was central to then-US president Barack Obama’s strategic pivot to Asia but his successor Donald Trump withdrew the US from the pact in 2017.

Accession to the CPTPP would be a major boost for China following the signing of the 15-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement last year.

China has lobbied for its inclusion in the pact, including by highlighting that the Chinese and Australian economies have enormous potential for cooperation.

However, relations between the two countries have soured.

On Thursday, Australia, the US and UK signed a new defence alliance – known as AUKUS – which will see Australia obtain nuclear submarines using US and UK technology.

The move has been interpreted as an effort to contain China, and one that would earn a backlash from the Asian superpower.

Mr Robertson said he didn’t believe the Chinese application – made to New Zealand which was excluded from the AUKUS grouping – was linked to the defence announcement.

The United Kingdom and Thailand have also signalled interest in joining the CPTPP.

Wang and O’Connor held a telephone conference to discuss the next steps following China’s application, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said.

with Reuters