Why Britain is in the Pacific

Dr James Kierstead
Insights Newsletter
21 April, 2023

On March 31st, at a meeting of member-countries, it was agreed that the UK would join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The CPTPP is one of the world’s largest free-trade blocs, accounting for 13% of global GDP, 15% of global trade, and 500 million people.

New Zealand is a founding member of the agreement as well as its depositary – the nation to whom an international treaty is entrusted. New Zealand is also the chair of the CPTPP this year, though its role in helping Britain to the table goes back further, to when New Zealand sent trade negotiators to the UK after the Brexit vote.

With the country playing such a big role in this major international organization, you’d think that the news of Britain’s accession would gain extensive coverage in the New Zealand media.

It did receive a few notices, including a brief piece by Thomas Manch that appeared on Stuff on March 31st, the day Britain’s entry was confirmed. By the next day, though, The Dominion Post had decided more important things were going on. It led with the Stuart Nash donations scandal, plus a side serving on the price of eggs.

It’s possible that The Dom Post’s editors were swayed by the UK-based commentators that have downplayed Britain’s entry to the CPTPP. For them, the move is simply an exercise in imperial nostalgia and an attempt to follow through on promises of a ‘global Britain.’

The critics are right that the consequences for British growth may not be enormous. Even the UK’s own Department for Business and Trade has estimated that the deal would boost British GDP by only about 0.08% over the next 15 years.

In many ways, though, Britain’s entry is more significant for the other members of the CPTPP than for Britain itself. If the move puts Britain into the Pacific, it also brings the Pacific’s largest trading bloc into Europe, not to mention the Atlantic.

The move’s greatest significance, though, may be symbolic.

What Britain’s move may herald is, in fact, a new age of diplomacy in which nations look to join whatever organizations best serve their interests, geography be damned.

If that’s right, the CPTPP’s welcoming of a new member may be pretty important after all. Even more important, perhaps, than the price of eggs in Aotearoa.

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