Asia banks on RCEP trade megadeal for early COVID relief

Asia banks on RCEP trade megadeal for early COVID relief

After signing, focus turns to ratification; China to hold sway in India’s absence

SINGAPORE — Fifteen countries spanning the Asia-Pacific region on Sunday signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, creating a vast free trade framework that promises to help speed up the members’ post-pandemic growth.

The 15 countries include 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.

RCEP, which extends beyond trade to set common rules and standards for a range of economic activity, will take effect after at least six ASEAN countries and three non-ASEAN countries ratify it.

Sunday’s signing ceremony was held online, hosted by this year’s ASEAN chair Vietnam. With national leaders looking on, economic ministers from the 10 members of the Southeast Asian bloc signed in alphabetical order, followed by the five other countries. They held up their documents for the other participants to see over the video feed, each drawing applause from an audience in Hanoi.

“I am confident that RCEP will soon be ratified and come into force, further bolstering our post-pandemic economic recovery and delivering shared prosperity to the people and businesses of all participating countries,” Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said after all countries signed.