Fifteen Asia-Pacific nations signed the RCEP, a mega free trade deal, on Sunday as they concluded an annual summit of Southeast Asian leaders and their regional partners, held virtually this year due to the pandemic.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is the world’s biggest trade agreement. It will progressively lower tariffs across many areas in the coming years.
The pact, which was first proposed in 2012, loops in 10 ASEAN economies along with China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia.
They make up nearly a third of the world’s population and account for 29 percent of global gross domestic product.
“After eight years of negotiating with blood, sweat, and tears, we have finally come to the moment where we will seal the RCEP Agreement this Sunday,” Malaysia’s trade minister Mohamed Azmin Ali had said ahead of the summit.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who led Singapore’s delegation, on Sunday hailed the signing of the RCEP as a “major milestone” and congratulated the 15 participating countries.
“We have reached a major milestone of signing this agreement today. It has taken us eight years, 46 negotiating meetings, and 19 ministerial meetings to get here. I am very grateful for the tireless efforts of ministers and negotiators from all participating countries who have worked so hard during the process.
“The RCEP is a major step forward for the world, at a time when multilateralism is losing ground and global growth is slowing,” said Mr. Lee.
Now, he added, “the hard work of implementing the agreement and encouraging our businesses to take full advantage of it begins”.
What is the RCEP?
RCEP is a trade pact between the 10-member ASEAN bloc, along with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. India had been due to sign but pulled out last year.
The deal includes 2.1 billion people, with the pact’s members accounting for around 30 percent of global GDP.
Its aim is to lower tariffs, open up trade in services, and promote investment to help emerging economies catch up with the rest of the world.