Trade & Investments

Most of what is publicly known about RCEP is based on the Guiding Principles document, upon which the negotiations are structured, and limited statements from the members after each round of negotiation.5 The Guiding Principles explicitly state that ASEAN will play a central role throughout the negotiations and commits negotiating parties to eight principles:

1. Consistency with the World Trade Organisation;

2. Broader and deeper engagement than was achieved in the various bilateral agreements between participating countries and ASEAN;

3. Transparency in the trade and investment relationships between all members;

4. Flexibility that accounts for the different levels of development across the participating countries, including differential treatment where appropriate, particularly for the least-developed nations;

5. Non-interference with existing bilateral relationships either between members or between members and third parties;

6. Open accession to enable any external economic partners to join after the completion of the negotiations, subject to terms and conditions agreed by all;

7. Provision of technical assistance and capacity building for the least-developed participants; and

8. For the negotiations relating specifically to goods, services and investment to be held in parallel to ensure comprehensive coverage.

Trade in Goods

As a starting point, the RCEP is intended to progressively eliminate tariffs on “substantially all” goods, and aims to also remove non-tariff barriers between members. It aims to avoid long lists of goods being withheld from the agreement, but seeks to compensate least-developed members by focusing on early elimination of tariffs on goods they export.

Initially a working group was established for goods, which has now begun formal negotiations in the areas of standards, technical regulations, conformity assessment procedures, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, customs procedures, trade facilitation and rules of origin. Meanwhile a modality for tariff negotiations is still being agreed upon, which likely means that official discussions on tariff reductions are yet to begin.

Trade in Services

Services is a key area for RCEP to surpass the commitments made in the ASEAN bilateral agreements, many of which have services agreements but only for a limited range of sectors and with many exemptions. All sectors and modes of supply are subject to the RCEP negotiations.

A working group on services has been established, but it is unclear what progress has been made. It is likely that the structure of the chapter has largely been agreed to, while the precise content and the scheduling for market access commitments are still under discussion.


Negotiations on investment have focused on promotion, protection, facilitation, and liberalization. The guiding principles are very vague regarding investment, and it appears that preliminary discussions by the working group sought to define the ultimate aim. It seems the contents of this chapter have now been largely finalized, as have the modalities for commitments, meaning current efforts are likely focused on the implementation schedule and tabling of initial offers.


The RCEP negotiations also seek to identify other measures to increase economic integration. These include the provision of technical assistance (particularly in the area of e-commerce) to the least developed participants, the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, provisions on competition and market regulation, and a dispute settlement mechanism.

Each measure has its own working group and ministerial statements imply that negotiations in these areas are progressing more rapidly than in the traditional trade areas.6

More in this category: « Conclusion Background and History »

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