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World Economy Brief

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Title Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP): Progress and Challenges
Author LA Meeryung
Date 2017-06-12
File WEB 17-12.pdf 

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is an ongoing free trade agreement involving ASEAN member states (AMSs) and six trading partners: Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. RCEP negotiations were launched in November 2012, and 18 rounds of negotiation have been held, along with six ministerial meetings and three intersessional meetings. Two chapters, namely "Economic and Technical Cooperation" and "Small and Medium-sized Enterprises," have been concluded, and other chapters are still in progress with some of them nearing conclusion.
To date, progress in the RCEP negotiations has been sluggish due to disagreement over the modality of tariff reduction on trade in goods, liberalization of services, and investment framework. In regard to trade in goods, it is known that the proportion of products committed to eliminate tariffs has not been finalized yet. It is hard to balance the interests of RCEP participating countries (RPCs) due to the different industrial structures and levels of development among participating countries. It seems unrealistic to expect conclusion of the RCEP by the end of this year, but it is likely that considerable progress will be made during ASEANs 50th anniversary.

With the global trade slowdown, the importance of the RCEP to keep markets open and deepen integration is increasing. RPCs should continue their efforts to reach high-standard and economically meaningful outcomes. The agreed outcome should be able to reduce intra-regional transaction costs through simplification and harmonization of rules of origin, customs procedures and standards. Since RPCs have already established over-lapping FTAs with member countries, it needs significant improvements over the existing ASEAN+1 FTAs to induce economically meaningful gains from the RCEP.