The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, which was inked by 15 states on Nov 15 last year, will not only expedite the ongoing integration of Asia-Pacific countries but also neutralize the attempt of some non-regional powers to disrupt regional cooperation, experts said.
The world's largest trade bloc, which covers nearly one-third of the global population and about 30 percent of the world GDP, is set to play a vital role in defending multilateralism and free trade in the face of rising anti-globalization sentiments in some economies, the experts said.
So far, Thailand, Singapore, China and Japan have ratified the RCEP since the signing of the agreement in Hanoi, Vietnam, after eight years of negotiations. Once ratified by three-fifths of the 15 signatories－the 10 ASEAN member states and China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand－the RCEP agreement will come into force in 60 days.
The signing of RCEP has made people more confident about trade and investment liberalization in the Asia-Pacific region and the integration of regional economies, Wu Hailong, president of China Public Diplomacy Association said at a RCEP Media and Think Tank Forum held on Sunday in Haikou, Hainan province.
George Yong-Boon Yeo, former minister for trade and industry and foreign affairs of Singapore, said at the same forum that the short-term significance of the RCEP may be modest but the long-term significance is great.
"RCEP will bring the region closer together in an organic way and will help to maintain peace and development for one-third of humanity in this century," he said.
"The deal will help resume global economic development, boost regional economy and uphold multilateralism," said Da Zhigang, director of, and a research fellow at, the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.
Since the proposal of the RCEP in 2012, the 15 signatory states overcame their differences and contradictions to reach a consensus on the agreement. "Which shows the common appeal of the regional countries for economic development as well as regional peace and prosperity," Da said.
To counter the anti-globalization trend in some countries, according to Da, the signatory countries should make concerted efforts to ratify the RCEP agreement as soon as possible.
Da said that, despite difficulties and the impact of the divisive politics practiced by some countries, the spirit of upholding multilateralism and free trade will remain unchanged. "The RCEP agreement will help amplify the positive effects of multilateral cooperation in the East Asian region and protect regional cooperation from being undermined by external forces," he added.
The experts also said that an integrated East Asia will facilitate the region's cooperation with other regions such as Europe and Africa, because the RCEP agreement is in line with the Belt and Road Initiative and will further strengthen policy communication with Belt and Road countries.
The Belt and Road Initiative plays a crucial role in strengthening regional infrastructure development and connectivity, the key elements that support trade and attract investment, the experts said.
Noting that many of the signatories to the RCEP agreement are also countries along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, Da said the harmonization of trade rules under the RCEP framework will help promote the high-quality development of Belt and Road projects.
Cheng Hanping, senior research fellow and professor at the Collaborative Innovation Center of South China Sea Studies at Nanjing University, said that, based on the Joint Leaders' Statement the RCEP issued in November 2019, the signatory countries have agreed to align their connectivity measures with those of the Belt and Road Initiative.
"It is believed that the China-Laos railway and the China-built Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway will soon bring benefits to the people in the region," Cheng wrote in an op-ed.
Going forward, the Asia-Pacific region will be further integrated and will expand cooperation like never before. The RCEP will also help China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations deepen strategic mutual trust and cooperation, and help build a community with a shared future, Cheng said.