Photo/Illutration Ministers from 11 nations after the signing of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership in March 2018 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Despite its enormous global economic clout, China faces major hurdles in its quest to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade arrangement: For starters, there is no guarantee it can even enter into negotiations for such status.

High-ranking Chinese officials spent months lobbying for inclusion in the CPTTP, which suggests the application submitted Sept. 16 was the result of careful planning on the part of Beijing.

On Sept. 13, visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his Singaporean counterpart, Vivian Balakrishnan, who told Wang he welcomed China’s interest in joining the CPTTP.

For discussions to begin on considering Beijing’s application, all 11 members of the CPTPP must first give their consent.

But that may not be easy in light of various bilateral issues China has with some of them. For example, Vietnam has a territorial dispute with China, while trade friction between Australia and China has intensified.

According to Australian media, Dan Tehan, the Australian trade minister, cited bilateral issues with China “which require ministerial engagement” in a Sept. 17 statement.

“CPTPP Parties would want to be confident that the candidate would meet, implement and adhere to the high standards of the agreement,” Tehan said.

So even if negotiations with China get going, Beijing would also have to answer many of the questions concerning its willingness to comply with CPTTP standards.

Among measures in Chinese government policy regarded as highly problematic are subsidies given to state-owned companies, a clear violation of the CPTTP provision that all companies, foreign and domestic, should be treated equally.

China has enacted various laws that restrict the overseas transfer of business data, another violation of CPTTP rules that call for free movement of such data across borders.

Government procurement policy also would pose a major hurdle for China, which has issued declarations to local government bodies ordering that only domestic companies be used when purchasing information technology and medical equipment.

Other fundamental issues that China would have to overcome include allowing for freedom of assembly and the right to collective bargaining as well as prohibiting forced labor.

(This article was written by Akihiro Nishiyama in Beijing and Koji Nishimura in Singapore.)