Negotiations began Tuesday for the United Kingdom to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact as the country is aiming to enhance its economic presence in the region following its departure from the European Union.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan's minister in charge of TPP negotiations, welcomed the U.K. commitment toward membership during an online meeting with his British counterpart Liz Truss.
"I am prepared to proactively engage with enrollment procedures by the United Kingdom" so as to expand the free trade bloc, Nishimura told Truss. Tokyo holds the 11-member pact's rotating presidency this year.
Truss said in a Twitter post after the meeting that TPP membership would "hitch the U.K. to the fastest-growing parts of the world, create new opportunities for our farmers, manufacturers and services firms, (and) support jobs and drive growth."
The final decision on whether to accept the United Kingdom as new member is expected to be made next year or later.
Many TPP members have already signed a bilateral trade deals with the United Kingdom, with officials saying there seem to be no major obstacles in the accession negotiations.
The United Kingdom's inclusion, if realized, would increase the TPP's share of global economic output to around 16 percent from the current 13 percent.
Japan chairs the TPP Commission, the bloc's decision-making body, this year. It will also head working groups expected to be set up later this year to discuss tariffs as well as trade and investment rules toward London's envisaged participation.
The United Kingdom filed a request in February to join what is formally called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.
It was the first accession applicant outside the original participating countries. China, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand have also expressed interest in joining the free trade bloc.
The bloc, which came into force in 2018, currently has a total population of about 500 million, exceeding that of the European Union with about 448 million, according to Japan's trade ministry.
Among the 11 member nations -- Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam -- seven have so far ratified it.
The TPP is designed to cut tariffs on agricultural and industrial products, ease investment restrictions and enhance intellectual property protection, with the aim of improving economic integration among the participating countries.
The TPP was originally promoted by the United States under the administration of Barack Obama in a bid to balance China's increasing influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
But Donald Trump, who openly expressed his preference for bilateral trade deals and not multilateral agreements under his so-called "America First" policy, withdrew from the TPP shortly after taking office in 2017.