China has been pushing for membership in a high-level Asia-Pacific trade and investment pact and will step up efforts to attract foreign investment, according to the country’s top trade negotiator.
Wang Shouwen, China’s vice-minister for commerce, said Beijing had researched more than 2,300 clauses and items in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and combed through the reforms, laws and regulations that the country needed to carry out and revise for membership.
Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) China CEO Forum 2023 in Beijing on Saturday, Wang said China had submitted a document to the members and was “willing to and capable of” joining the pact.
“China is proactively aligning its own trade standards to the high thresholds of the CPTPP by piloting test sites for [market] opening, and we will provide new free-trade impetus to the region.”
Wang’s remarks come as Beijing tries to consolidate its footing in the global supply chain and counter the “de-risking” efforts by the US.
China applied to join the high-level trade pact, which was called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before the United States’ withdrawal under the Trump administration, in September 2021.
CPTPP membership requires approval from all member countries, namely Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan. The United Kingdom reached an agreement to join in March and is expected to formally sign the pact this year.
Stephen Olson, a senior research fellow at the Hinrich Foundation, said China’s application to join the regional free trade agreement raised geopolitical issues.
“It would now be ironic if China ultimately ends up in the agreement while the US remains on the sidelines.”
The Post reported last month that China failed to secure a public endorsement from Australia to join the trade bloc during Australian Trade minister Don Farrell’s trip to Beijing.
The CPTPP’s membership criteria include ownership and labour standards – two areas where Beijing is seen as falling short of the requirements.
Wang also said on Saturday that China had “basically opened its doors to foreign investors in the manufacturing sector, and the service sector will be gradually opening up”.
In the future, he added, China would also “reasonably” reduce market access restrictions for foreign investors.
“China will actively attract foreign investment. Investing in China would mean a huge market with a population of 1.4 billion, and a guarantee of a safe, stable and efficient industrial and supply chain,” he said.
“An open Chinese market will help multinationals improve their competitiveness in the world.”
Foreign business communities have voiced fatigue over unmet promises in recent years and called on Beijing to carry out concrete moves to open market access and provide policy certainty.
Inflows of foreign direct investment to China dropped 5.6 per cent in the first five months of 2023 to US$84.35 billion, after falling by 3.3 per cent in the first four months, the Ministry of Commerce said last week.
Zhijie Ding, an expert on international affairs at Columbia University, and Wanjun Zhao, a research assistant at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in an article in the East Asia Forum last August that views about China’s participation in the trade framework were divided.
“Some argue that Beijing is ready to meet the CPTPP’s high standards and intends to use accession negotiations to accelerate domestic market-oriented reforms,” they wrote.
“Others remain sceptical of China’s track record in observing the [World Trade Organization’s] principles. They maintain that Beijing is unlikely to follow through on its commitments and that its application is merely a bid to expand its influence.”