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Kemi Badenoch, British Trade Minister, second right, shakes hands with Japan's Minister of Economic & Fiscal Policy Shigeyuki Goto, left, as New Zealand Minister for Trade and Export Growth Damien O'Connor, and New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, right, watch during a Trans-Pacific Partnership Ministerial Meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, on July 16.Smoke Photography/The Associated Press

Britain on Sunday officially joined an Asia-Pacific trade group that includes Japan and 10 other nations during a meeting in New Zealand.

The trade bloc covers more than 500 million people and 15 per cent of the world’s economy. For Britain, it represents the largest trade deal it has struck since leaving the European Union (EU) more than three years ago.

Britain first announced in March it had reached an agreement to join the bloc, which was created in 2018, after more than two years of negotiations. It is the first new member to join the bloc, called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

It also includes New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

“We are honoured to become the CPTPP’s first new member and to join this extraordinary community of now 12 economies spanning Asia, the Pacific and now Europe,” said British Trade Minister Kemi Badenoch. “This is a modern and ambitious agreement and our membership of this exciting, growing and forward-looking bloc is proof that the U.K.’s doors are open for business.”

Ms. Badenoch said that more than half a million Britons already work for companies from the bloc’s member nations.

Shigeyuki Goto, Japan’s economic minister, said adding Britain would strengthen the bloc.

“The fact that this was done in a way that maintains the high standards of agreement sets an exemplary precedent for future accessions,” Mr. Goto said.

The deal comes as Britain pursues greater engagement with the Indo-Pacific. Critics say the deal is insignificant compared to Britain’s trade with its neighbours in the 27-nation EU.

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the addition of Britain to the bloc was great news for the region.

“Trade is not only a priority for this government, but is essential to our economic recovery, and improving the lives and livelihoods of all New Zealanders,” Mr. Hipkins said.

Since leaving the EU, Britain has also signed separate trade deals with Australia and New Zealand.

The U.S. is not part of the bloc after former president Donald Trump withdrew from its predecessor, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Members of the trade group also said on Sunday they were gathering information on China, Taiwan and other countries interested in joining the agreement to see whether they were able to meet the pact’s “high standards.”

Along with China and Taiwan, Ukraine, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Ecuador have also applied to join the pact. A decision on who will join and when will be made collectively.

“The membership is currently undertaking an information-gathering process on whether aspirant economies can meet the CPTPP’s high standards, taking into account their experience on their trade commitments,” the members said in a joint statement.

China’s application to join the pact is now next in line if they are dealt with in the order they were received, but the country faces a number of hurdles to be included.

The CPTPP requires countries to eliminate or significantly reduce tariffs, make strong commitments to opening services and investment markets and has rules around competition, intellectual property rights and protections for foreign companies.

Damien O’Connor, New Zealand’s trade minister who chaired this CPTPP meeting, said at a news conference there was no time frame for when any decisions on future membership would be made.

“It’s a complex area,” Mr. O’Connor said of membership applications, adding no single country’s application was discussed on Sunday. China has opposed Taiwan’s application.

With files from Reuters

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