15 Asia-Pacific countries sign free trade deal

Fifteen Asia-Pacific countries, including China, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Malaysia, signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) after eight years of negotiations. The signatory countries represent about 30% of the world’s population, 30% of global GDP, and nearly 28% of global trade, making it 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 the signatory countries. The RCEP regulates, among others:

  • Telecommunication services, including ICTs, regulatory oversight and licensing, and allocation of spectrums (Chapter 8);
  • Intellectual property (Chapter 11), establishing a list of international treaties the RCEP member states shall ratify or accede to, as well as regulations on trademarks, geographical indications, and patents;
  • Dispute settlement mechanisms, the RCEP states that the member countries shall, in connection with their management of country code top-level domain (ccTLD) domain names make available an appropriate procedure for the settlement of disputes, based on, or modelled along the same lines as, the principles established in the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, as approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers; and
  • E-commerce (Chapter 12), including electronic authentications and signatures, online consumer protection and personal data protection, easing cross-border e-commerce, and 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 RCEP member countries, especially China. According to AXIOS, this is the first time in which the USA is not at the centre of a major global free trade agreement.