UK - CPTPP (Pacific) trade deal

UK - CPTPP (Pacific) trade deal

The UK has reached an agreement in principle to accede the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Also known as the Pacific trade deal, this trading bloc encompasses 11 countries in the Pacific region. Members include Japan, Canada, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore.

The agreement brings minimal benefits and significant risks for priorities such as tackling climate change and eliminating poverty. There is little faith that the agreement will be subject to anything approaching the necessary levels of scrutiny.

What is TJM calling for?

TJM and other civil society organisations are calling for the UK to halt the accession process to the Pacific trade deal at this time. Instead, the UK should prioritise rethinking its approach to trade so that UK trade policy is fully aligned with commitments on human rights, climate, the environment and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and overhaul its process for public engagement and parliamentary scrutiny.

Trade negotiations: status update

On 30 March 2023 the UK signed the agreement in principle to join the Pacific trade deal. The signing ceremony is planned for July when member trade ministers meet in Auckland, New Zealand.

The UK formally applied to join the deal at the end of January 2021, and on 22 June 2021 published its negotiation objectives and scoping assessment.

Joining the Pacific trade is seen as part of a wider ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’ in UK foreign policy. However the economic benefits are negligible on the Government’s own measures: adding a mere £1.8 billion, or 0.08%, to UK GDP “in the long run”. This is the equivalent of £27.73 per person, although there is little in place to ensure an equitable distribution of benefits.

Process and scrutiny

The Government originally stated that “before applying” to join the CPTPP, it would “publish an Outline Approach and a Scoping Assessment setting out our negotiating objectives and the economic impact and benefits of accession.” The UK applied to join the CPTPP at the end of January 2021, but the outline approach and scoping assessment were not published until 22 June 2021.

MPs have thus far not had a formal opportunity to debate the risks and benefits of joining the Pacific trade deal. The UK’s process for negotiating international agreements allows the government to initiate, negotiate and conclude deals without any scrutiny or consent from Parliament. MPs have no guaranteed votes on objectives or on the final deal.

Environmental and climate impacts

The Pacific trade agreement risks significant negative environmental and climate impacts. The UK’s own assessment predicts that greenhouse gas emissions will increase as a result of the agreement. Whilst the increase is very small at 0.025%, it is far from the significant reductions that are required to achieve our climate commitments. Reports suggest that the UK has acceded to Malaysia’s demand to lower tariffs on palm oil to zero, which could increase deforestation, further undermine community land rights and threaten natural habitats for species like orangutans.


Image: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meets Japan's Prime Minster Fumio Kishida for a bilateral meeting at the Tower of London, January 2023. Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

Further information