Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon M. Lopez joined the Trade Ministers from the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its five trade partners-Australia, China, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand-in signing the RCEP Agreement on November 15, 2020 during the 4th RCEP Leaders' Summit held via video conference. RCEP includes six of the 11 remaining CPTPP members.
India withdrew a year ago over concerns about cheap Chinese goods entering the country.
Ladakh aside, India's reluctance to signing up was also because of the fear that we would be deluged by cheap Chinese products that would destroy small industries, killing jobs and hurting the poor.
The RCEP "solidifies China's broader regional geopolitical ambitions around the Belt and Road initiative", said Alexander Capri, a trade expert at the National University of Singapore Business School, referring to Beijing's signature investment project that envisions Chinese infrastructure and influence spanning the globe. China's promotion of infrastructure investment as part of its Belt-and-Road initiative has successfully ensnared many countries in long-term projects which can not be dropped even when they look unlikely to return a profit.
Notably absent from the signing was India, which withdrew from negotiations in November past year.
The RCEP agreement is loose enough to stretch to fit the disparate needs of member countries as diverse as Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam and Australia. "It's a milestone of great significance", he said.
"The RCEP agreement will be also an important catalyst in contributing to economic growth, improving the livelihoods of people in the region, and helping to restore regional economic development after the Covid-19 pandemic", it said.
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"This trade pact is instrumental in subverting creeping unilateralism because it pulls all bilateral free trade agreements (FTA) into one economic sphere, under one blanket trade ruling", he said. "This is a show of support for collective efforts against common challenges", he said.
The Global Times said India had been actively trying to cut economic ties with China citing concerns over the competitiveness of Chinese products. This means that the free trade bloc would encompass almost one-third of the world's population and economic output.
However, while the RCEP adds incrementally to Chinese GDP, it will not be enough to cancel out the damage of the trade war with the USA, research showed.
"Though the RCEP may still leave a chance for India, it will be hard for the nation to reset its direction unless New Delhi clearly realizes that its core interest has been hindered by its skewed strategy".
The China-backed deal excludes the United States, which left a rival Asia-Pacific grouping after president Donald Trump pulled out in 2017.
Cheong Wa Dae downplayed speculations Sunday that the U.S. could press South Korea into joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP, as a balancing measure between China and the US. Over the same period, the trade war would slice 0.32 per cent from its GDP.
It will take time to fully assess exact details of the agreement encompassing tariff schedules and rules for all 15 countries involved _ the tariffs schedule just for Japan is 1,334 pages long.