The largest regional trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), was signed on November 15, 2020, by 15 Asia-Pacific countries, including China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The RCEP aims to promote trade and economic integration, reduce tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and increase investment and services trade among its members, which collectively account for around 30% of global GDP and population.
The RCEP covers 20 chapters, including trade in goods, services, and investment, intellectual property, e-commerce, competition, and dispute settlement. It also includes provisions for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), women, and the environment.
The RCEP is expected to benefit its member countries by creating a more integrated and predictable business environment, reducing trade costs and bureaucracy, and expanding export and investment opportunities. It is also expected to facilitate supply chain diversification and resilience, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic and rising trade tensions.
However, the RCEP has also faced criticism and concerns over its potential impact on labor rights, environmental standards, intellectual property protection, and China`s dominant role in the agreement. Some experts also question whether the RCEP can effectively address the structural challenges facing its members, such as income inequality, technology transfer, and geopolitical tensions.
Nonetheless, the signing of the RCEP signals a significant milestone in regional trade cooperation and multilateralism, particularly amid the rise of protectionism and unilateralism. The RCEP also underscores the importance of the Asia-Pacific region in shaping the future of global trade and governance.
As the largest regional trade agreement, the RCEP will undoubtedly have significant implications for businesses, consumers, and policymakers worldwide, and it will be an area of continued attention and analysis for years to come.