The RCEP is the first free trade agreement between China, Japan and South Korea, three of Asia`s four largest economies.  When it was signed, analysts predicted that it would help revive the economy in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, “bring the economic centre of gravity back to Asia” and accentuate the decline of the United States in economic and political affairs.    For China, this is a great achievement. The agreement would reduce tariffs and open up trade in services within the bloc. The RCEP is now seen as a block powered by Beijing and as an alternative to the United States in the region. The RCEP is not as comprehensive as the comprehensive and progressive agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, another free trade agreement in the region that encompasses some of the same countries.  The RCEP “does not establish uniform employment and environmental standards or require countries to open services and other vulnerable areas of their economies.”  In 2016, the Electronic Frontier Foundation described RCEP`s first draft intellectual property provisions as “simply the worst copyright provisions ever seen in a trade agreement.”  The agreement is expected to boost the global economy by $186 billion.   “We note that the RCEP agreement is an unprecedented mega-regional trade agreement, which includes a diverse mix of developed, developing and least developed economies in the region. As an agreement that would cover a market of 2.2 billion people, or nearly 30% of the world`s population, with an overall GDP of $26.2 trillion, or about 30% of world GDP and nearly 28% of world trade (based on 2019 figures), we believe that RCEP is the largest free trade agreement in the world. represents an important step towards an ideal framework for global trade and investment rules,” the joint statement said. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – Australia, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand – met virtually on November 15, 2020 and signed the agreement to help recover from the shocks of the Covid 19 pandemic. “This agreement means a lot to China because it will give it wide access to the Japanese and South Korean markets, as the three countries have not yet reached a free trade agreement,” said Amitendu Palit, Senior Research Fellow and Research Lead (Trade and Economics), at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. “The fact that this happened despite the pandemic is certainly a lever for China and shows that the idea of decoupling China in the regional sense is not a matter of substance.” The agreement aims to reduce tariffs and bureaucracy.
It contains uniform rules of origin throughout the bloc, which can facilitate international supply chains and trade within the region.   In addition, some tariffs are prohibited.