12 January, 2018
British officials say they hope their country will one day join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.
The TPP is currently being negotiated by 11 other countries. All 11 have a border facing either the Pacific Ocean or the South China Sea.
The British government hopes trade with fast-growing economies will make up for any losses that may take place after it leaves the European Union (EU).
Britain's withdrawal from the EU, known as Brexit, is expected in 2019.
On a recent trip to China, Britain's Trade Minister, Liam Fox, suggested his country might one day join the TPP.
"We don't know what the success of the TPP is going to yet look like, because it isn't yet negotiated," Fox said.
"So, it would be a little bit premature for us to be wanting to sign up to something that we're not sure what the final details will look like. However, we have said that we want to be an open, outward-looking country, and therefore it would be foolish for us to rule out any particular outcomes for the future," he added.
London sits some 7,000 kilometers from any Pacific coastline. So, is geography no longer an issue in 21st century trade?
Not so, says economist Jonathan Portes. He works as a professor at Kings College London.
Portes says, "There has been an argument put forward that, particularly as trade in services expands, and as a result of technology, it will matter considerably less in the future, and that seems to make a lot of sense. So far at least, the actual data and evidence don't really support this contention. For whatever reason, geography at the moment seems to matter as much as it ever did," he added.
By withdrawing from the EU's Single Market and Customs Union, Britain will leave a free trade agreement that makes up about half of its foreign trade. By comparison, the 11 countries now negotiating the TPP combined accepted less than eight percent of all British exports last year.
Portes said it will take many years for Britain to profit from other trade deals. He added that British companies have close ties with the European Union. He thinks there will likely be problems because of Brexit.
The countries negotiating the TPP include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan and Mexico. The others are New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
Barack Obama, former president of the United States, was a driving force behind TPP. But the next president, Donald Trump, pulled the United States out of the deal, saying it would be bad for America. Negotiations between the 11 remaining countries continue slowly.
Because of the U.S. withdrawal, "the TPP has its own internal problems," said Portes, adding it will be a lot of work to fix those issues.
But Britain's interest in the TPP has been welcomed by some of the countries involved, namely Australia.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to visit Asia later this year in an attempt to strengthen relations before Brexit.
I'm Susan Shand.
Words in this Story
premature – adj. happening too soon or earlier than usual
geography – n. an area of study that deals with the location of countries, cities, rivers, mountains, lakes, etc.
contention – n. something (such as a belief, opinion, or idea) that is argued or stated
outcome – n. results