15 Asia-Pacific countries sign free trade deal

After 8 years of negotiations, 15 Asia-Pacific countries including China, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Malaysia, have signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The signatory countries represent about 30% of the world’s population, 30% of the global GDP, and nearly 28% of global trade, making the RCEP the largest trade agreement in the world.

Expected to shape global economics and politics, the RCEP is intended to facilitate international trade by reducing tariffs and administrative requirements among member states. The RCEP regulates, among others:

  • Telecommunication services, including ICTs, regulatory oversight and licensing, as well as allocation of spectrums;
  • Establishment of a list of international treaties the RCEP member states shall ratify or accede to, as well as regulations on intellectual property (IP), trademark, geographical indications, and patents;
  • Setting up dispute settlement mechanisms related to IP, stating that the member states shall, in connection with their system of management of the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) names, making available an appropriate procedure for dispute settlements, based on, or modelled along the same lines as, the principles established in the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP);
  • E-commerce, including electronic authentications and signatures, online consumer protection and personal data protection, to ease cross-border e-commerce, as well as cybersecurity.

Notably missing from the RCEP is India, which withdrew from negotiations last year due to concerns over its domestic industry and the potential of widening trade deficits with member countries, especially China. According to AXIOS, this is the first time when the USA is not in the centre of a major global free trade agreement.