Skip to main content

Kristen Hopewell is a professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Policy at the University of British Columbia.

With the start of the new year, Canada will assume the rotating chair position of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), one of the world’s biggest trade blocs. Both China and Taiwan are seeking to join the agreement. Canada should use this opportunity to show leadership in opening formal negotiations for Taiwan’s accession. China’s bid, on the other hand, must be treated with considerable caution, given concerns about whether it can be trusted to adhere to the terms of the agreement.

CPTPP is an ambitious, high-standard free-trade agreement covering virtually all aspects of trade and investment. Applications to join the pact must be assessed on their merits and the demonstrated ability of the country in question to meet the agreement’s high standards and adhere to its rules. This must also take into account an applicant’s track record of delivering on its trade commitments under other international agreements, such as those of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Taiwan has a strong case for membership in the CPTPP. It is an advanced, market-based economy and has been preparing for nearly eight years to join the pact. It has undertaken a systematic review to identify any gaps between its policies and the requirements of the CPTPP, and has completed wide-ranging reforms to bring its domestic laws and regulations in line with the agreement.

At this point, there is little question of Taiwan’s willingness or ability to meet the high standards of the agreement. Instead, the issue is largely political. China has opposed Taiwan’s accession bid, and many believe China’s own bid to join the agreement was primarily intended to pre-empt that of Taiwan.

Beijing’s goal is to isolate Taiwan on the international stage, by limiting its opportunities to co-operate and engage with other states. China has used its political might to restrict Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization. It has also pressured other countries not to enter into trade agreements with Taiwan or include it in trade blocs.

China has blocked Taiwan from participating in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a China-centred trade pact seen as a rival to the CPTPP. As a result, Taiwan is currently excluded from both of the two major trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific region, putting it at a significant disadvantage. Over the long term, this will make Taiwan a less attractive destination for industry and foreign investment. Joining CPTPP would enable Taiwan to deepen its trade and economic ties with other members and give it preferential access to many of the world’s largest markets, helping to attract inward investment and supporting its ability to remain globally competitive.

Facing intense military pressure from Beijing, joining CPTPP is a top policy priority for Taiwan. It is seen as a critical step to ensuring its long-term survival. Giving in to Chinese efforts to isolate Taiwan would only render it more vulnerable.

Beijing is keen to join the agreement itself, which would represent a significant symbolic and strategic win. But China’s policies and practices are incompatible with many of the CPTPP’s provisions. For example, participants are required to abide by the International Labour Organization’s core rights and principles, including prohibiting forced labour. Yet China’s use of forced labour and other severe human-rights abuses in Xinjiang are well documented.

There is a vast gap between China’s current practices and the standards of the CPTPP. China would be unable to meet the requirements without a profound and fundamental overhaul of its state-dominated approach to managing its economy. Moreover, it is questionable whether Beijing can be credibly relied on to abide by any CPTPP commitments.

Beijing has a lengthy track record of violating international trade rules, including weaponizing trade as an instrument of economic coercion against weaker states. Canada experienced this firsthand when China blocked $4-billion in Canadian exports in retaliation for the Huawei extradition case. This was far from an isolated incident. Beijing has used the threat and imposition of trade restrictions to punish more than a dozen countries for various perceived affronts. These actions are in direct violation of the rules and principles of the WTO.

CPTPP expansion represents an important means for Canada to diversify its export markets and reduce its dependence on the U.S. and China. But participating states need to be confident that any new member will actually respect and abide by its rules. Taiwan has a strong case for joining the agreement and its accession bid should be seriously considered and supported. Backing its CPTPP bid is an important way for Canada to show concrete support for Taiwan – and that it refuses to be cowed by Beijing’s bullying and intimidation.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe