Signing a major international trade pact could allow Boris Johnson’s government to agree a deal with China “by the back door”, Labour has claimed.
Shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry has written to ministers asking 238 questions about the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Negotiations are expected to start later this year under the government’s post-Brexit plans, and joining the CPTPP will cut tariffs in trading with its 11 members, which also include Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore.
But Thornberry warns of an “increasingly serious prospect” that Beijing may decide to apply to join the pact.
It comes as Tory backbenchers rail against China’s increasing global influence and amid widespread condemnation of the oppressive regime’s actions in Hong Kong and accusations of genocide against the Uighurs.
MEPs in the European Parliament, meanwhile, are considering voting down China’s proposed trade deal with the EU.
In a letter to trade secretary Liz Truss, Thornberry writes: “There is one particularly vital issue that was not even considered a possibility at the time of the 2018 consultation, which is the increasingly serious prospect that China may apply to join the CPTPP.
“As spelt out in the attached document, this raises numerous questions, the first and foremost of which is whether the UK will be granted the right to veto China’s membership if we complete our accession before they begin theirs; and if so, whether the government would intend to exercise that right?
“You have said the UK has no plans for a bilateral trade deal with China, but is not the greater risk that such a deal could take place by the back door, via the CPTPP?”
The accusation follows foreign secretary Dominic Raab telling civil servants the UK is preapred to seek trade deals with countries that violate international standards on human rights.
In a recording passed to HuffPost UK, Raab can be heard telling staff in his department that only trading with countries that meet European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) standards would mean the UK missing out on trade with future “growth markets”.
He said: “I squarely believe we ought to be trading liberally around the world.
“If we restrict it to countries with ECHR-level standards of human rights, we’re not going to do many trade deals with the growth markets of the future.”
In the letter, Thornberry also raised concerns about New Zealand launching a public consultation on new accessions to the CPTPP, which said that new members will need to comply with the existing agreement.
“Unfortunately, that sounds like a recipe for the UK to end up as a rule-taker in the CPTPP rather than a rule-maker,” she wrote.
She asked Truss to consider whether it would be “sensible” to reopen the public consultation on the CPTPP, once the terms of joining are known.
Truss has previously said that joining the pact would “create enormous opportunities for UK businesses that simply weren’t there as part of the EU”.