Fifteen Asia-Pacific economies recently signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, the world’s largest free trade agreement that covers a market of 2.2 billion people and 30 per cent of the global gross domestic product (GDP).

The agreement was virtually-inked at the 4th RCEP Summit by leaders of ASEAN Member states; Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines, along with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Image: Infofoto

ASEAN in its statement said that the deal will improve market access with tariffs and quotas eliminated in over 65 per cent of goods traded and make business predictable with common rules of origin and transparent regulation as well as boost investments in the region. 

At the Summit, His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam in a titah congratulated RCEP participating countries for the demonstration of solidarity and cooperation in concluding the RCEP negotiations, in support of free trade despite economic challenges.

His Majesty also emphasised that the RCEP Agreement will also play a significant role in the region’s post-pandemic recovery efforts. 

“As the largest Free Trade Agreement in the world, it is expected to provide new opportunities and the further deepening of economic ties among the participating countries,” said the monarch.

Image: Infofoto

His Majesty thereby expressed confidence that RCEP would be an engine of growth that will shape the region’s economic landscape in the years to come.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General of ASEAN Dato Lim Jock Hoi said that the signing is a historic event as it underpins ASEAN’s role in leading a multilateral trade agreement of this magnitude, despite global and regional challenges and eight years of negotiations.

“RCEP will give a much-needed boost for a swift and robust recovery for businesses and peoples in our region particularly during the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis,” he said.

The RCEP Summit which was held on November 15 was officially opened by the Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, as the ASEAN Chairman.

Image: Infofoto

President of the Republic of Indonesia Joko Widodo, as the Chair of RCEP negotiations, acknowledged that the signing of the RCEP Agreement marks the region’s commitment to the principles of multilateral trade which is open, fair and beneficial to all. 

It also signals the commitment to the win-win paradigm in promoting peace and prosperity in the region as well as a post-pandemic recovery.

This was followed by a statement by Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern as the facilitator of the ASEAN FTA Partner countries in RCEP. 

New Zealand highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic has created negative shocks to the global economy, leading to a sharp rise in protectionism. 

Thus, New Zealand believed that the RCEP Agreement is significant in responding to the global crisis through expanding international cooperation. Trade is an enabler of economic recovery and will drive recovery efforts by increasing income, innovation and productivity.

At the Summit, leaders of the RCEP partner countries emphasised the signing of the RCEP agreement as a reflection of the region’s strong resolve to promote free trade. 

It is a significant milestone whereby the RCEP becomes the largest free trade agreement, creating a trading area that covers a third of the world’s population, GDP, or trade volume with ASEAN at its centre. 

The signing shows the commitment of participating countries in developing multilateralism and free trade, boosting solidarity and partnership for greater inclusive cooperation in global economic growth and development. 

The strategic value of the RCEP is a catalyst for driving the economy forward and enhances economic sustainability in the region. 

FILE PHOTO: Haikou Xiuying Port Container Terminal Aerial View, The Main Transportation Hub for Hainan Free Trade Zone of China. Image: Shutterstock.

RCEP will fully reflect the emerging pattern of integration where economies can come together and contribute to each other’s development. The Summit adopted the Joint Leaders’ Statement on RCEP.

Towards the end of the 4th RCEP Summit, His Majesty also witnessed the signing of the RCEP Agreement by RCEP Ministers.

Image: Shutterstock.

The Agreement has 20 Chapters, 17 Annexes and 54 schedules of commitments covering market access, rules and disciplines, and economic and technical cooperation.

Negotiations of RCEP started in 2013 and were led by Director-General of Indonesia’s Ministry of Trade Iman Pambagyo, and with support provided by the ASEAN Secretariat.

This article was first published on November 21, 2020 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 116



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