The RCEP can be seen as a crucial step within the longer process of integrating the Asia-Pacific region and of its increased geopolitical centrality. This process started with the idea of the “Asia-Pacific” and then, with the establishment of ASEAN in 1967, and later ASEAN+3 in 1997 that improved dramatically the relationship between nations in Southeast Asia and in the Asia-Pacific, allowing to avoid major conflicts. However, there remains a deficit of trust among Asia-Pacific members—complicated by China’s rise and a lack of an Asian identity—necessary to respect commitments on trade, investments, and intellectual property. While we are witnessing a pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, the Atlantic bloc and “the West” more broadly are far from disappearing.
On November 15, 2020, 15 nations signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement. The signatories comprise the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) as well as Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.This post will highlight three significant aspects of the agreement: market access opportunities; increased opportunities for intra-agreement supply chains; and implications for the United States as a non-participant.
Despite being the largest free trade agreement (FTA) in the world, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is often criticized as a shallow FTA. In this essay, however, we contend that the RCEP is better understood in the context of the great power rivalry between the United States and China. We argue that the RCEP marks China’s rise as a shaper of trade law norms and governance mechanisms, which intensifies great power competition. On the one hand, by solidifying the world’s largest regional trading bloc, including through enacting very liberal rules of origin, the RCEP tightens ties among Asian economies and counters the efforts of the US to divert supply chains away from China. On the other hand, the inclusion of new rules on issues like e-commerce in the RCEP illustrates the potential for some cooperation between the two countries over the governance of the emerging digital economy, despite considerable challenges. The essay concludes with thoughts on the options for the new US administration in dealing with China.
More significant than trade liberalisation is the RCEP’s geopolitical statement. Initial commentary from the West has mostly misread the signal, with narratives that the RCEP is a huge economic and political win for China, that the RCEP was a China-led initiative to counter the TPP, and that the agreement provides further evidence of a rising China and a global geopolitical shift – all of which misrepresent the reality of the agreement and overstate reality.
The contributions to the symposium on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) feature essays from across the world. The topics are diverse too: some dwell on the geopolitical implications of the RCEP, some dwell on its dispute settlement chapter, while some others on issues which the text of the Agreement either ignores or deals with only perfunctorily. Despite the divergence of the views of the contributors, on some points, they broadly tend to agree. They clearly perceive the RCEP as the beginning of a growing trend where economies in the Asia-Pacific region could play a much more pivotal rule in global trade rulemaking.
This new Continental Free Trade bloc is now entrusted with the competence to engage other FTA Blocs such as the European Union (EU), North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) and Association of South Eastern Nations (ASEAN), on trade policy from an Afri-Centric perspective - the essence of Afri-Multilateralism. Hitherto, the various national governments across the Continent had engaged global trade from the prism of nationalistic interests but this new paradigm affords Africa, for the first time, an opportunity to engage on trans-Sahara, trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific negotiations on an equal footing, and not under the auspices of 'emerging countries' or LDCs.
The book traces the evolution of regionalism and regional integration on the continent, from the Organization of African Unity through to the African Union but, unlike earlier treatises on regionalism, Bashi Rudahindwa rightly places emphasis on the role of the legal framework. He draws comparisons with other regional economic integration projects: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Common Market of the Southern Cone (MERCOSUR), the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the European Union (EU), to argue for greater emphasis in the AU on capacity building, and the need to utilize law to support regulatory and institutional frameworks to facilitate trade and industrialization, and interventionist measures aimed at promoting structural transformation.