British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Friday that joining the $13.6 trillion Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership trading bloc put Britain at the center of a dynamic and growing group of Pacific economies. File Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo
March 31 (UPI) -- Britain joined a 10-country trading bloc in the Indo-Pacific on Friday, in what the government hailed as its biggest trade deal since quitting the European Union's $16 trillion single market in 2021.
Membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership -- which includes Japan, Canada, Australia, Mexico and Vietnam -- will give Britain tariff-free access to the bloc's $13.6 trillion market.
Announcing the deal, the government said it would provide a boost for key British exports such as cars, machinery, whisky, gin, cheese and chocolate, adding $2.3 billion to the economy over the long term with wages also forecast to rise by $990 million compared to 2019 levels.
"We are at our heart an open and free-trading nation, and this deal demonstrates the real economic benefits of our post-Brexit freedoms," Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said. "As part of CPTPP, the U.K. is now in a prime position in the global economy to seize opportunities for new jobs, growth and innovation.
"Joining the CPTPP trade bloc puts the U.K. at the center of a dynamic and growing group of Pacific economies, as the first new nation and first European country to join. British businesses will now enjoy unparalleled access to markets from Europe to the south Pacific."
Sunak said membership, which follows two years of intense negotiations by the Department for Business and Trade, would not have been possible were Britain still a member of the European Union.
However, Britain already has trade agreements with all the countries in the CPTPP apart from Malaysia and Brunei, while the government's own figures show that membership will have added $2.3 billion to the economy or 0.08% of extra growth to GDP in 10 years.
Membership could also complicate any future effort to rejoin the EU Single Market.
But Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said the deal was about giving British businesses improved access to countries that will be the gateway to the wider Indo-Pacific region, which is projected to make up the majority of global growth in the future.
Union leaders attacked the agreement saying it was a bad deal because it exposed governments to being sued for actions that impacted the profits of corporations such as minimum wage laws.
The Trades Union Congress said on Twitter that trade unions were banned in Vietnam and Brunei and alleged that Malaysian migrant workers are subject to forced labor.
"This deal allows corporations to sue the U.K. government in secret courts for threatening their profits with policies such as the minimum wage or public ownership of energy companies," it said.
Similar issues caused the collapse of negotiations for a trade deal between the United States and the European Union in 2016.
General Secretary Paul Nowak called it a "dodgy trade deal with countries that don't allow independent trade unions for an overall boost to the U.K. economy of less than 1%.
"That's terrible news for workers here and across the world."