Last week, 15 East Asian countries agreed to increase their economic integration by several stages by forging the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the largest free trade agreement (FTA) ever concluded. In 2019, RCEP members accounted for about 30% of global production and population and 28% of global trade. More importantly, however, about 44% of their total trade was intra-RCEP, which is an important incentive for members of this agreement to accept the agreement, as it could help strengthen regional value chains. This could prove beneficial for RCEP member countries in their efforts to recover from the recession. The initiative to create RCEP was taken in 2011 by the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These countries had adopted a resolution „to establish an ASEAN-led process by establishing principles“ that would allow ASEAN members to „involve interested ASEAN-FHA partners in the establishment of a regional comprehensive economic partnership agreement.“ The „Guiding Principles and Objectives“, the de facto negotiating mandate of the RCEP, spoke of „the progressive elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to almost all trade in goods“ and the achievement of a „high level of tariff liberalization by building on existing levels of liberalization among RCEP participating countries and achieving a high percentage of customs lines and trade value“ by removing tariffs. customs. With regard to services, the PRCs agreed to conclude a comprehensive and high-quality agreement that would „substantially remove restrictions and/or discriminatory measures“. In the months following India`s withdrawal from the RCEP negotiations, several PRCs expressed a strong desire to re-engage India. These efforts are now „official“: before signing the agreement, RCEP ministers adopted a declaration on India`s participation in the agreement, leaving the door open for India to join the RCEP agreement as an original signatory. In addition, India was invited to participate as an observer in RCEP meetings and economic cooperation activities of RCEP members. Finally, RCEP members agreed to open negotiations with India as soon as India has submitted a written request for accession to the agreement.
The question is whether the circumstances in which India had distanced itself from the RCEP negotiations have improved to join the agreement in the near future. In 2016, the Electronic Frontier Foundation described RCEP`s first draft intellectual property provisions as „simply the worst copyright provisions ever seen in a trade agreement.“  According to a forecast for 2020, the agreement is expected to boost the global economy by $186 billion.   The agreement aims to reduce tariffs and bureaucracy. It contains uniform rules of origin across the bloc that can facilitate international supply chains and trade in the region.   It also prohibits certain tariffs. It does not focus on trade unions, environmental protection or government subsidies.  In contrast, RCEP covers traditional market access issues along the model of the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, it also includes issues currently being considered by several groups of WTO Members as part of their „reform of the multilateral trading system“ agenda. These are e-commerce, investment facilitation, which appears to be the first step towards a multilateral agreement on investment and creates an enabling environment for the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises in world trade.
RCEP is not as comprehensive as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, another free trade agreement in the region that includes some of the same countries.  RCEP „does not establish uniform standards for labour and the environment and does not oblige countries to open up services and other vulnerable sectors of their economies.“  RCEP is the first free trade agreement between China, Japan and South Korea, three of Asia`s four largest economies.  At the time of signing, analysts predicted that this would help stimulate the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, „bring the economic center of gravity back to Asia,“ and amplify the U.S. economic and political decline.    Sources: India decides not to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP). .