Executive Summary

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a mega-regional trade agreement currently being negotiated by the ten ASEAN member states and those countries with existing bilateral trade agreements with ASEAN. The 16 countries involved in RCEP include the 10 members of ASEAN - Brunei-Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - plus the six countries with which ASEAN has free trade agreements: Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand.

Combined, the countries involved in the RCEP negotiations represent nearly 48% of the world’s population, and over 29% of its GDP. Some countries, particularly China, are cornerstones of global value chains, reflected by the fact that while only accounting for 30% of global GDP the RCEP countries represent an astounding 60% of global trade flows.

Leaders announced that RCEP would be “a modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement establishing an open trade and investment environment in the region to facilitate the expansion of regional trade and investment and contribute to global economic growth and development”.1 As such, negotiators are aiming for a much deeper level of integration than has been achieved through ASEAN, including measures on competition regulation, intellectual property and dispute settlement as well as the more traditional trade in goods, services, and investment clauses.

There is significant diversity between levels of development of the negotiating countries and such differences are important to bear in mind when seeking to understand why the RCEP stresses flexibility and differential treatment, as opposed to more rules-oriented agreements.

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