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'Cloud cuckoo land': UK government mocked over plans to join Pacific trade bloc after Brexit

Adam Payne
David Davis Liam Fox

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  • The UK government accused of taking Britain into "cloud cuckoo land" over reported plans to join a Pacific trading bloc.
  • Britain would become the first member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that doesn't border the Pacific Ocean or South China Sea.
  • TTP members accounted for just 8% of Britain's exports last year.
  • Labour urges government to focus on trade links closer to home.

 

LONDON — Theresa May's government has been ridiculed over reports that it has held informal discussions about joining the Trans-Pacific trade group once it has left the European Union.

Liam Fox's Department for International Trade is developing a plan for Britain to join the group and become its only member state that borders neither the Pacific Ocean or South China Sea, the FT reports.

UK trade minister, Greg Hands, said that geographical distance between Britain and TPP members was not an issue.

"Nothing is excluded in all of this," Hands told the FT. "With these kind of plurilateral relationships, there doesn’t have to be any geographical restriction."

However, the UK government's interest in becoming the twelfth member of the trade group after Brexit has been mocked across the political spectrum.

Former Foreign Office Permanent Secretary, Simon Fraser, who served under former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, tweeted: "Welcome to cloud cuckoo land."

Former Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, described it as "pie in the sky thinking."

"This smacks of desperation," the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale said. "These people want us to leave a market on our doorstep and join a different, smaller one on the other side of the world."

What is the TPP?

The group, established in 2012, has 11 members, including Japan, Australia and Mexico. It was initially envisaged as a "platform for regional economic integration," which suggested that welcoming a European nation was unlikely.

However, British officials have discussed joining the group in recent meetings with counterparts from Australia, New Zealand, and other TPP groups, according to the FT.

TTP members accounted for just 8% of Britain's exports in 2016. This was dwarfed by Britain's total exports to the EU and was smaller even than total British exports to Germany, which was around 11%.

Japan, TTP's largest member, accounted for just 1.6% of Britain's global exports last year, according to data compiled by the MIT's Observatory of Economic Complexity.

The Labour Party urged the government to focus on trade tides closer to home, specifically maintaining its trading links with the European Union.

"Of course [TPP] could be helpful but it is not the main event, and at the moment the government is making a hash of that," Shadow Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner said.

TTP took a major hit last year when US President Donald Trump withdrew this country from the group.

The remaining members have agreed to continue working on a successor deal, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The group hopes to conclude the revised agreement in early 2018. However, it is "too soon" to discuss the prospect of joining, according to one official cited by the FT.

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