China’s Bid to Join Trade Pact Raises Alarms, U.S. Lawmaker Says

China’s efforts to join a regional trade deal that originally aimed to exclude Beijing “should set off alarm bells” in Washington, where a growing number of lawmakers are calling for the U.S. to re-assert its influence in Asia, according to a key U.S. senator overseeing trade.

“If you aren’t at the table, you may well end up on the menu,” Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat who chairs the Senate finance subcommittee on international trade, told a hearing on Asia-Pacific trade policy Tuesday. “We need to take China’s interest seriously and begin the hard work of developing a comprehensive policy toward re-engagement with our allies in this part of the world.”

The U.S. had originally envisioned the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership as an economic bloc to balance China’s growing power, with then-President Barack Obama saying in 2016 that Washington, not China, should write the regional rules of trade. His successor Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2017, describing it as a “potential disaster” for the U.S., and Japan led the revised and renamed pact to a conclusion the following year.

Bloomberg News reported last month that officials from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and possibly other nations have held technical talks with Chinese counterparts on details of the CPTPP. China announced in February it had held informal talks with some of the members, but didn’t release details.

Carper and John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who is the committee’s ranking member, in May wrote to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai asking her to provide direction on engaging with allies in the Asia-Pacific region -- and calling Trump’s decision to withdraw from the trade pact a “missed opportunity” to strengthen U.S. leadership there.

“Our national security must come first,” Cornyn said at the hearing. “We have to identify smart, democratic measures that take into account the unfair trade practices, the human-rights and censorship abuses deployed by our adversaries, while making targeted investments in trade relations with our allies that abide by rules-based international trading system.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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