Background and History

The RCEP’s roots can be traced back over a decade. It is the culmination of a series of ideas and studies arising from the ASEAN+3 and ASEAN+6 forums. The creation of a pan-Asia free trade agreement, or ultimately even a free trade area or common market, has long been a central priority in the ASEAN+3 and ASEAN+6 dialogues, leading to suggestions such as the East Asia Free Trade Area (EAFTA) and then, through the East Asia Summit, the Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA).

In 2011 parallel studies initiated by ASEAN+3 and ASEAN+6 published recommendations signalling that the RCEP had overtaken these initiatives as the favoured path for deeper regional economic integration.2 Unlike CEPEA, the United States and Russia have not participated in the negotiation process of the RCEP, but also unlike that agreement and other agreements entered by ASEAN, the RCEP is working on an open accession model rather than one of pre-determined membership.

Following the recommendations of ASEAN+3 and ASEAN+6 reports, ASEAN endorsed the concept at its Summit in 2011, releasing the Framework for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.3 Negotiations were officially launched in 2012 after government discussions between representatives of the sixteen members on the side-lines of the East Asia Summit. Leading up to announcement, the sixteen participants’ Economic Ministers approved a set of Guiding Principles endorsed by their leaders at the same time the negotiations were launched.4 

The negotiation process has been relatively rapid given the number of countries involved and the diversity amongst them. To date, there have been 12 rounds of negotiations with the latest taking place in Mid-June 2016.

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