After eight years of negotiation, 15 nations formally signed one of the world’s largest free trade agreements on the 15th of November 2020. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) includes the 10 ASEAN nations as well as their close partners China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia. The agreement stands as a symbol of China’s growing economic impact in Southeast Asia, at a time when the US places itself in an uncertain position in the region.
The RCEP shows that the world won’t wait around for the US, but instead engage in aggressive trade negotiations without it. The European Union are currently pursuing several free trade agreements at a high pace. As a result, many American exporters might lose their global market shares.
The RCEP is expected to abolish a range of tariffs on imports over a 20-year period. It also includes regulations on intellectual property, telecommunications, financial services, e-commerce, and professional services. However, as the new trade agreement eliminates tariffs mainly on goods that are already eligible for duty-free treatment, it is expected to formalize, rather than remake, the business among the involved nations. Moreover, the pact introduces so-called “rules of origin”, which will set common standard for how much of a product needs to be produced within the region to qualify for duty-free treatment. As an effect, international enterprises will have an easier task of setting up cross-border supply chains that span several countries.
Due to the ongoing global pandemic, the signing of the free trade agreement was a bit unusual as The whole process was conducted virtually. Each country’s trade minister took turn signing the deal, while his or her head of state or government stood nearby and watched the signing take place.
The agreement is the biggest of its kind in relation to the massive population it affects. The pact covers 2,2 billion people, more than any previous free trade agreement has ever covered. Moreover, the deal could increase global national income by 186 billion USD annually by 2030. It is believed that the pact will benefit China, Japan and South Korea the most.