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The UK government is increasing diplomatic links in the Indo-Pacific region, as it continues to tilt towards the region to build up trade relations.

As previously reported by the IOE&IT’s Daily Update, the UK is pivoting towards Indo-Pacific countries as it looks to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) by the end of 2022

Minister for Asia and the Middle East, Amanda Milling MP, is today (08 August) embarking on a regional tour of Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu.

Perth reconnection

As part of this tour, Milling has announced plans to re-establish the diplomatic post of consul general in Perth, Western Australia, after nearly 20 years.

Western Australia is the country’s largest state, accounting for 16% of its GDP. The new consul general has been tasked with deepening trade and investment ties between the UK and the western third of Australia following the free trade agreement signed between the two countries last year.

Milling will visit Perth and Melbourne for meetings with politicians, business and industry leaders, before the trips to Vanuatu and New Zealand.

ASEAN agreement

She arrives in Australia from Cambodia, where she represented the UK at ASEAN, a meeting of influential countries in Southeast Asia, and signed-off a new UK-ASEAN agreement for cooperation on trade and investment, defence and security.

As part of the agreement, the UK will open a regional British International Investment office in Singapore this year to invest up to £500m in the Indo-Pacific.

The visit follows an intensive period of engagement for the UK with its partners in the Pacific.

Intense efforts

Foreign secretary Liz Truss and defence secretary Ben Wallace have visited Australia this year, while outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson met new Australian PM Anthony Albanese at the NATO Summit in Madrid.

Johnson has also hosted New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern in London last month, while COP26 President Alok Sharma also visited Australia, Fiji and New Zealand.

CPTPP membership

The CPTPP is one of the fastest-growing trade blocs in the world, and the UK hopes to gain membership as a crucial post-Brexit dividend.

Independent NZ news site Scoop reports that the new British High Commissioner in New Zealand, Iona Thomas, presented a letter of introduction to Jacinda Ardern last Wednesday (3 August), marking Thomas’ official start in the role.

Thomas joins the high commission in the same year that the UK and New Zealand signed a free trade deal, currently awaiting UK parliamentary approval. New Zealand has said it supports the UK’s ambition to join the CPTPP, of which New Zealand is a founding member.

Britain is seeking to improve its trading relationships with other CPTPP members, such as Mexico, with which it is hoping to sign a new trade deal.

Cabinet Office Minister Nigel Adams visited Tokyo and Osaka last week and spoke to CPTPP negotiators to underline the UK’s commitment to free trade and joining this world-leading plurilateral trade grouping.

‘A good addition’

In an opinion piece for Nikkei Asia, Graham Zebedee, chief UK negotiator for accession to the CPTPP, and Natalie Black, trade commissioner for Asia Pacific, claimed the grouping would benefit from the UK’s admission. 

“The UK’s accession to CPTPP would be a strong signal of the growing international consensus in favour of free, rules-based trade. As the engine room of the global economy, the Indo-Pacific is the region that will set the standards and forge the rules that govern the technologies and services of the future,” they said.

As the fifth-largest economy in the world, with a market of 67 million consumers, the UK would be the second-largest economy in the CPTPP, representing a major market opportunity for CPTPP members, they added.