RCEP helps emerging Asia-Pacific community with a shared future

Editor’s Note: Ji Xianbai is an assistant professor at the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China. He is the author of “Mega-regionalism and the geo-economic competition of the great powers”. The article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of CGTN.

For a long time, the global landscape of regionalism was dominated by two major trading blocs, namely the European Single Market which underpins the European integration project and the North American Free Trade Area (now superseded by the Agreement United States-Mexico-Canada) which cemented the central role of the North American economic circle in the global economy.

This bipolar, Euro-Atlantic-centric state of affairs – reminiscent of the imperial world order of yesteryear – is now behind us with the emergence of a tripolar model. Indeed, the historic Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) takes effect today in 10 thriving Asia-Pacific economies: Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Japan, Laos, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. (The deal will go into effect in South Korea within a month.)

Once four remaining countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and the Philippines) complete their respective national legislative procedures to apply it, RCEP will be the largest regional trade agreement in the world.

While it does not replace the pre-existing cross-trade agreements in place between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its dialogue partners, RCEP actually simplifies regional trade rules, adopts rules of origin favorable to integration, improves cross-border coordination of exchange services, promotes the involvement of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in international trade and lays a solid foundation for future cooperation on the digital economy and regulatory coherence .

As we know, India, a founding member of RCEP, withdrew at the last minute. But since India was not a core economy of the RCEP grouping, India’s withdrawal will not be too serious an obstacle for other RCEP participants, especially developing economies in Southeast Asia, to reap the benefits. benefits of closer economic integration with each other and with the North East. The economic heavyweights of Asia and the Pacific.

Traffic police patrol a street under increased social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ho Chi Minh City, southern Vietnam, August 23, 2021. / Xinhua

Traffic police patrol a street under increased social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ho Chi Minh City, southern Vietnam, August 23, 2021. / Xinhua

The economies of Southeast Asia have been hit hard by the debilitating COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in massive job losses, capital flight, factory closures and budget difficulties in large part of the region. In 2020, all but four Southeast Asian countries (Brunei, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) experienced negative economic growth.

Certainly, the region’s road to economic recovery will be filled with uncertainties and difficulties and will depend on the global path of vaccination and economic recovery. Yet the timely enactment of the RCEP Agreement will certainly provide a regional economic, legal and institutional framework within which interconnected economic growth can be facilitated and catalyzed.

With the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aimed at improving connectivity between nations, RCEP will help lift Southeast Asia out of the economic trough. The recently inaugurated China-Lao Railway connecting the Chinese city of Kunming in southwest China to the Laotian capital of Vientiane, which is part of the BRI, for example, has given much hope to revive the landlocked Laotian economy in the era of RCEP.

Looking forward to a post-COVID-19 era, one can’t help but wonder how RCEP might develop into the next stage. I see great potential for RCEP to become a pan-Pacific trade agreement encompassing all countries in the region. Some should point to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as two alternative bases on which trans-Pacific economic cooperation can be structured. But the first is a loose framework marked by increased voluntarism while the second is too legally demanding to be inclusive. The high technical standards embodied in the CPTPP model and its insensitivity to the region’s disparate national economic and political circumstances suggest that broad application of its rules and provisions is not achievable in the short to medium term.

In November 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for efforts to build an Asia-Pacific community of destiny, setting out China’s vision of leveraging regional integration and economic cooperation for lasting peace, prosperity. common and cultural harmony. If there is one thing that best embodies this vision, it would be RCEP. As the agreement comes into force, an Asia-Pacific community with a shared future is emerging.

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