The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is set to be signed next month at the 4th RCEP Summit during the 37th ASEAN Summit in Vietnam in mid-November, Cambodian Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak said on Sunday.
Experts said the deal will open a wealth of new market opportunities for Cambodia to diversify its export portfolio and accelerate the inflow of regional investments.
Sorasak attended the 11th RCEP Intersessional Ministerial Meeting held via video link last week. He said all ASEAN ministers present at the meeting acknowledged the strides made towards the RCEP.
“Ministers of ASEAN highly evaluate the efforts of the trade negotiations committee and legal affairs working group which completed their works as planned despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“[We] agreed to have it [the RCEP] signed by the end of the year in hopes that it will create a more modernised, broader and more highly efficient partnership framework that provides economic interests to each member through the expanding regional trade and investment,” he said.
RCEP is set to be the world’s largest free trade agreement (FTA), initially comprising 16 member countries and engaging more than 3.6 billion people, or 48.1 per cent of the world population, Thailand’s The Nation reported on Friday.
The combined gross domestic product (GDP) of RCEP member states was to the tune of $28.5 trillion last year, or 32.7 per cent of world GDP, and their combined trade was worth more than $11.2 trillion, or 29.5 per cent of world trade value.
Fifteen countries – with the notable exception of India which withdrew in November last year – will sign the deal. The members have not yet been able to respond to India’s concerns regarding its trade deficit with many of them, according to The Nation.
Besides the 10 ASEAN member states, the other five partners are China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Even without India, RCEP will cover more than 2.2 billion people, or 30 per cent of the world population, a total GDP of more than $25.6 trillion (29.3 per cent of world GDP) and trade value of more than $10.4 trillion (27.4 per cent of global trade).
Royal Academy of Cambodia economics researcher Hong Vanak said RCEP is a platform for ASEAN that was years in the making.
He said the deal will re-orient the trade and investment landscape in the region, encourage commercial exchanges among members and serve as a vital driving engine for the manufacturing sector.
“This means that the countries in the region will enjoy more opportunities to promote exports to other members. At the same time, the RCEP will help to promote trade flow and attract more investments with members to the region.
“Cambodia now is not like it used to be. We have a wide selection of agricultural products on offer in addition to garments and textiles.
“Moreover, it has much more room to entice more regional investment to re-export to other countries that are partners of ASEAN,” Vanak said.