Singapore among 15 countries to have signed world's largest trade deal

Singapore among 15 countries to have signed world's largest trade deal

Fifteen Asian and Pacific countries Sunday signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement on the sidelines of the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.

But numerous signatories are battling severe coronavirus outbreaks and they are also hoping the RCEP will help mitigate the crippling economic cost of the illness.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (L) and Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh at the RCEP signing ceremony in Hanoi on November 15, 2020.

India's change of heart was a blow for New Zealand, which stood to make significant gains through access to its protected market, particularly for exports such as dairy.

Vietnam, which hosted Sunday's summit, said the bloc will account for 30% of the world's economy, 30% of its population, and will reach 2.2 billion consumers.

The deal "is critical for our region's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and will play an important role in building the region's resilience through an inclusive and sustainable post-pandemic economic recovery process", they said.

The RCEP agreement was signed Sunday among its 15 participating countries.

United Kingdom to consider sanctions against China for breaching Hong Kong treaty
The European Union also called on Beijing to reverse the new rules, which it said undermined Hong Kong's autonomy. Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam , subsequently announced the disqualification of four assembly members.

But other nations have said in the past that the door remains open for India's participation in the RCEP, influenced by China. India did not return to the negotiation despite request from the RCEP members who have discussed the trade pact for almost eight years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the ASEAN Summit on November 12 and highlighted the necessity for peace and stability in the region but maintained silence regarding RCEP, indicating India's difficulty in welcoming the China-backed grouping.

The mega trade bloc is a landmark trade initiative which is expected to boost commerce among the member-countries spread across the Asia-Pacific region. President Donald Trump later pulled the United States out of TPP talks, and a revised deal was signed among the remaining 11 countries including Japan.

"Certainly we would expect the new administration to focus more on Asean and how we can strengthen the US-Asean trade and investment opportunities because the Asean region has a huge market". The deal will eliminate tariffs on 91 percent of goods, less than the revised TPP or Japan's economic partnership agreement with the European Union.

New Zealand already has strong access to most other RCEP member nations' markets - through either the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) or the China Free Trade Agreement (FTA) - but no deal with India.

Meanwhile, the other 14 countries will cut tariffs on 92 percent of Japanese industrial exports including automobile parts and steel products. Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are among those still dealing with elevated virus caseloads, while Singapore and Vietnam have so far successfully prevented new outbreaks.

Analysts are skeptical Biden will push hard to rejoin the trans-Pacific trade pact or to roll back numerous USA trade sanctions imposed on China by the Trump administration given widespread frustration with Beijing's trade and human rights records and accusations of spying and technology theft. The RCEP members, including Japan, China and the 10 members of ASEAN, signed the world's largest free trade deal during the virtual meeting, wrapping up eight years of negotiations aimed at cutting tariffs and establishing common rules in areas such as e-commerce and intellectual property.

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