Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.
Office of Richard Holden, Medomsley Rd, Consett.
Some readers will have seen and many more heard of the hit American musical, Hamilton. I saw it and loved so much that I went back again a few months later to see it a second time.
One of the songs that stuck with me, even though it isn’t one of the top tunes from the show, is called “One Last Time”. It’s about George Washington’s decision to step aside rather than continue to fight for further terms as President. Washington tells Hamilton that he’s doing so to teach the fledgeling republic “how to say goodbye.”
Sadly, the turmoil in the United States that has gripped the world in the last few weeks stands in stark contrast to Washington’s idealism. The vanity of a soon-to-be former President and the violent protests he caused are appalling.
And most shamefully, what could have been a moment of unity for the United States and a marker to the world about democracy and the peaceful transition of power has distracted from a real totalitarian government elsewhere: the moves by the Chinese Communist Party to end the democratic rights of the people of Hong Kong, plus its continued oppression of the Uighur people.
Amidst this melee, a new US President will be inaugurated. He has already signalled his intent to re-establish the role of the United States on the world stage. The United Kingdom is busily involved with this change, too, following Brexit and is rightly pursuing it – especially in relation to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP for short).
The global ‘pivot to the Indo-Pacific’ has been going on for some time, and CPTPP provides two things. Most importantly, reduced tariff barriers to a new free trade zone with the established (Australia, Canada, Japan etc) and emerging and growing (Vietnam, Mexico, Chile, etc) economies of the Pacific rim. Second, with 13 per cent of global GDP (16 per cent if the UK joins) working together, this provides a strong counter-weight that, if the UK joins, will be as large as China economically.
To take advantage of this emerging space of global power, the UK needs to demonstrate that we’re up for being a long-term partner to the region via the CPTPP. Importantly, such a move would ensure that we can retain our place, with our new-found status as a newly independent trading nation, as the pre-eminent global hub for business – especially legal and financial services and high specification manufacturing exports.
Critically, as the global coronavirus pandemic has shown too, we’ve got to both look at better domestic supply chains, but also at more diverse international supply chains. That means looking further than just China to broader partnerships in the Indo-Pacific. That’s especially critical as we push to be global champions of free trade and fighting protectionism – while also tied to a rules-based international system of countries that respect the rule of law,
Following Brexit, Liz Truss and her team at the Department of International Trade have been busily signing trade deals around the world – the ones that some people said we couldn’t do or would be wouldn’t be as good for Britain, but have proved quite the opposite. The UK already has or is in the late stages of, bilateral trade agreements with nine out of the 11 existing CPTPP member countries.
With UK investments in CPTPP countries at £98 billion, these countries accounting for £111 billion worth of UK trade in 2019 and trade growing at eight per cent a year, joining now opens the way to putting nitrous oxide into our tank for increase trade with the Indo-Pacific region.
With the CPTPP removing tariffs on 95 per cent of goods traded between members and cutting other barriers to trade, there would be boosts to such sectors such as the automotive one, which exported £3 billion in cars to the CPTPP countries last year. This is massively important to help level up our regions with good, private sector jobs, which are the basis for funding our public services.
With the United Kingdom having just taken up the presidency of the G7, a new US president in place imminently, and increasing revulsion around the world at the way China is treating both the Uighur people and the people of Hong Kong, there is a new opportunity. For a new internationalism with the twin aims of rules based international security and rules based international trade in which Global Britain can play a crucial role. Accessing the CPTPP and building those bridges worldwide is a natural next step that Britain should now take with confidence.