RCEP – getting closer to the end game

by | Nov 9, 2016 | Trade Working Blog

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free-thinkingOn the eve of the US Presidential elections, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about the prospects for the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Fortunately New Zealand is among the countries that have hedged their bets by proceeding with   regional FTA   negotiations on two fronts.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations are moving closer to their end game, with the ultimate goal of creating a market of over 3 billion people with total GDP of more than $17 trillion and accounting for 40% of world trade.

Many commentators have described RCEP as a China-led initiative but that is not the case. While China is undoubtedly an important participant, RCEP is predicated on improving on the existing ASEAN + 1 FTAs with the other members of RCEP: Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Korea and India. In fact market access with China seems to be a sticking point in the negotiations for a number of participants. The level of Indian ambition is another issue.

Trade Ministers from RCEP member states met last week in the Philippines to discuss progress in the negotiations, following on from the 14th round of RCEP negotiations that took place in Viet Nam in mid-August. The extent and pace of liberalising goods and services market access remain problematic and there are reportedly some lingering differences over investment. There is expected to be one more negotiating round before the end of the year.

At one time the RCEP negotiations between the ten Southeast Asian economies (ASEAN) and China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, were seen to be lagging behind TPP in terms of ambition and speed to market. Now there is a chance RCEP could steal a march on TPP if it can be concluded next year, as seems likely, and ratified expeditiously. Watch this space!

This post was prepared by Fiona Cooper Clarke, Associate Director, NZIBF

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