İrem UZUN -TDO- Fifteen countries spanning the Asia-Pacific region on Sunday signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement (RCEP), creating the world's largest trading bloc that promises to help speed up the members' post-pandemic growth. The 15 countries are China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, along with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Together, they account for around 30% of the world's gross domestic product and population.
The new free trade zone will be bigger than both the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the European Union. India was also part of the negotiations, but pulled out last year, over concerns that lower tariffs could hurt local producers. RCEP is expected to eliminate a range of tariffs on imports within 20 years. It also includes provisions on intellectual property, telecommunications, financial services, e-commerce and professional services.
The deal excludes the U.S., which withdrew from a rival Asia-Pacific trade pact in 2017. President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) shortly after taking office. The deal was to involve 12 countries and was supported by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama as a way to counter China's surging power in the region.
Parties of the agreement hope that the deal will help to spur recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. "Under the current global circumstances, the fact the RCEP has been signed after eight years of negotiations brings a ray of light and hope amid the clouds," said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Li described the agreement as "a victory of multilateralism and free trade".