The countries behind the creation of the world’s largest free trade arrangement have made it clear that India is welcome to join its ranks.
The leaders of the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – and Australia, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand, met virtually on 15 November 2020 to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
A joint statement laid out the reasons for its formation: “We were pleased to witness the signing of the RCEP Agreement, which comes at a time when the world is confronted with the unprecedented challenge brought about by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic. In light of the adverse impact of the pandemic on our economies, and our people’s livelihood and well-being, the signing of the RCEP Agreement demonstrates our strong commitment to supporting economic recovery, inclusive development, job creation and strengthening regional supply chains as well as our support for an open, inclusive, rules-based trade and investment arrangement.
“We acknowledge that the RCEP Agreement is critical for our region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and will play an important role in building the region’s resilience through inclusive and sustainable post-pandemic economic recovery process.”
India is the obvious missing local power and the statement laid out an invitation: “We are committed to ensuring that RCEP remains an open and inclusive agreement. Further, we would highly value India’s role in RCEP and reiterate that the RCEP remains open to India. As one of the 16 original participating countries, India’s accession to the RCEP Agreement would be welcome in view of its participation in RCEP negotiations since 2012 and its strategic importance as a regional partner in creating deeper and expanded regional value chains.”
The agreement is huge in scale and ambition. It covers a market of 2.2 billion people, or almost 30% of the world’s population; with a combined GDP of US$ 26.2 trillion or about 30% of global GDP, and accounts for nearly 28% of global trade.
RCEP also includes sub agreements on intellectual property, electronic commerce, competition, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), economic and technical cooperation and government procurement.