RCEP to boost ASEAN's economic recovery from COVID-19, says Singapore scholar

SINGAPORE, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) -- While the ASEAN member states are striving towards economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership's (RCEP) entry into force at an early date would surely accelerate the process, in which China's role is important, a Singapore scholar said.

In this April 22, 2021, file photo, flags of member countries fly at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia. (File photo: VCG)

RCEP, signed by 15 Asia-Pacific countries including 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states as well as China, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia in November last year, is the world's largest free trade deal.

Covering a region with a combined GDP of 26.2 trillion U.S. dollars, or about 30 percent of global GDP, RCEP is an unprecedented, modern, comprehensive, high-quality and reciprocal mega-regional trading arrangement that accommodates the broadest possible interests, conditions and priorities of different countries.

Once in effect, the deal will eliminate tariffs on as much as 90 percent of goods traded between its signatories over the next 20 years.

"An RCEP without China is not an impactful free-trade pact, as China is among the world's largest trading nations," Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told Xinhua on Monday.

ASEAN countries are eager to welcome China's increased investments as they try to revive their economy after the pandemic. They are also eager to explore further China's large domestic market for business opportunities, he said.

ASEAN countries are working hard to resuscitate economic development after the debilitating effect of the coronavirus pandemic, Oh said, adding that it would be "very helpful if the economic revival efforts could be done without the artificial imposition" of tariffs and non-tariff barriers that only serve to hinder the efficient functioning of economy.

"RCEP is especially useful in reducing and removing such obstacles, creating the world's largest common market, where goods and services could be more freely traded, thus accelerating the regional and world economic revivals," he noted.

Ratifications of at least six ASEAN member states and three non-ASEAN member countries are needed to reach the threshold for RCEP to enter into force. Countries that have completed the ratification procedures include China, Brunei, Thailand, Singapore, Japan and Cambodia.

The signing of RCEP happened at "a very critical juncture" as the world was witnessing a dangerous trend in retreating from free trade and multilateralism and advancing toward protectionism and unilateralism, according to Oh.

By resolutely building up the world's largest free trade area, the 15 members of RCEP try to demonstrate to the rest of the world the advantages of prospering together in a common market for all, thus renewing the worldwide momentum for free trade and multilateralism, he said.

As Oh views it, Singapore being one of the first members to ratify RCEP is not surprising.

Singapore is one of the major regional and global trading hubs and its economy depends to a large extent on the proper functioning of free trade. Singapore looks forward to deeper, broader and freer trading relations in the common market envisioned in RCEP, as early as possible, he noted.