The United Kingdom will hold its first meeting with members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact later this month to discuss London's application to join the deal, the Japanese government said Wednesday.
Following its departure from the European Union, the United Kingdom is aiming to enhance its economic presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The 11-member TPP is trying to expand its area after the United States withdrew from the pact under former President Donald Trump.
Ministers from the 11 members, including Japan, Australia and Singapore, held a videoconference of the TPP Commission, the bloc's decision-making body.
Japan chairs the commission this year and also heads the TPP's working groups to discuss tariffs as well as trade and investment rules toward London's envisaged participation.
As many TPP members have already signed bilateral trade deals with the United Kingdom, no major obstacles are expected in the accession talks, officials have said. The final decision on whether to accept the U.K. application is expected to be made as early as next year.
The United Kingdom's participation, if realized, will push up the bloc's share of global economic output to 16 percent from the current 13 percent.
London filed a request in February to join what is formally called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.
The country is the first accession candidate outside the original participating members. 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.
The TPP member states are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Eight of them have so far ratified the pact.
The pact aimed at making a free trade zone across the Pacific 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 Trump, who openly expressed his preference for bilateral trade deals and not multilateral frameworks under his so-called "America First" policy, withdrew from the TPP shortly after taking office in 2017.