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Asia Briefing


U.K. Joins ASEAN as Dialogue Partner, Eyes Asia-Pacific Free Trade Agreement


By Dezan Shira & Associates

The British House of Lords International Agreements Committee has launched a new inquiry on the potential accession of the U.K. to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The agreement among 11 countries includes four ASEAN states in Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam (the last two with which the U.K. has recently signed free trade agreements). This is in addition to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and Peru. The U.K. government has put forward its plans to seek accession to the CPTPP as an element of its trade negotiations program.

Today, the 11 countries’ combined economies represent 13.4% of global GDP (about US$13.5 trillion), making the CPTPP the fourth largest free trade area in the world after NAFTA, the European Union (EU), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The inquiry will examine the government’s objectives regarding the progression of negotiations. It will also look at the potential implications of a final deal for business and people in the U.K. The International Agreements Committee will scrutinize a future deal’s impact on the U.K.’s regulations and standards and will cover sectors such as food and agriculture, intellectual property, digital trade, professional services, and the consequences for inward investment. Moreover, the committee will assess how the CPTPP will align with the U.K.’s policy on tackling global climate change and sustainable development.

At this stage, it is not yet known when negotiations between the U.K. and the CPTPP’s current members will be concluded. Nevertheless, the House of Lords committee’s inquiry will continue being active throughout the course of the accession discussions. 

ASEAN Dialogue Partner Status Begins

The U.K. government has already taken steps to integrate with Asia’s regional blocs following its successful bid to become a Dialogue Partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). As a Dialogue Partner, the U.K. gains high-level access to ASEAN, alongside enhanced practical cooperation on various policy issues with the regional bloc. It also enables the U.K. to join other important dialogue partners, including the United States, China, and India.

The U.K. is currently one of several countries with a dedicated Ambassador to ASEAN, having a diplomatic mission with all 10 member countries. It also has extensive cooperation programs to discuss with ASEAN, including measures in dealing with the global pandemic, climate change, and terrorism. The U.K.’s Dialogue Partner status would further build on its ties with ASEAN by its involvement in annual ASEAN summits and ministerial meetings.

The first official ASEAN meeting welcoming the U.K.’s participation took place on January 23, 2021, at the 11th Meeting of the Committee of the Whole (CoW) for the ASEAN Economic Community’s Integration Work Plan for 2021-2025. At the meeting, U.K. Ambassador to ASEAN Jon Lambe presented the U.K. government’s and Boston Consulting Group’s joint work on enabling ASEAN to utilize global value chains to drive economic recovery, as part of ASEAN’s recovery framework post COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first time in post-war history, the British Parliament is taking steps to reverse decades of economic and political orientation toward Europe in favor of reigniting its relations with the countries of East Asia and the Pacific Rim.

This article was first published by ASEAN Briefing, which is produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists foreign investors throughout Asia from offices across the world, including in ChinaHong KongVietnam, Singapore, India, and Russia. Readers may write to [email protected] for more support.