After exiting EU last year, UK applied to join Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The members of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) on Wednesday decided to begin free trade agreement negotiations with the UK, according to media reports.

The decision came at a virtual meeting of the TPP Commission – the decision-making body of the 11-member regional group which includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japanese minister in charge of TPP negotiations who chaired the meeting, called the UK a “global strategic partner,” Tokyo-based Kyodo News reported.

The inclusion of the country in the trade pact, if realized, “will further advance bilateral economic ties and bring great strategic significance,” he said.

After exiting the EU last year, the UK made the application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP, which came into force in 2018. It covers about 13% of global gross domestic product.

China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand are interested in joining the free-trade bloc.

The Japan-led working group will work with the UK over joining the free trade deal and the decision on whether Britain “will join the framework could come next year or later,” the report said.

Under the TPP umbrella, the member states aim to cut tariffs on agricultural and industrial products, ease investment restrictions and enhance intellectual property protection.