Thailand said negotiations have concluded for a sprawling China-backed regional trade agreement, bringing 16 Asia-Pacific countries involved in the talks closer to signing the pact.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, known as RCEP, involves 10 Southeast Asian countries and six other economies: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Together, they account for nearly half the global population and about one-third of the world’s gross domestic product.
“This will significantly contribute to an open, inclusive and rules-based international trading system and expansion of value chains,” Thailand said on Sunday at a regional summit held in the capital Bangkok and nearby Nonthaburi.
The U.S. is being represented by a relatively low-level delegation at the multilateral meetings in Thailand, which includes the East Asia Summit. National-security adviser
Robert C. O’Brien
and Commerce Secretary
Progress on the RCEP pact comes nearly three years after the U.S. pulled out of talks for another large agreement calledthe Trans-Pacific Partnership. That deal excluded China and was intended to cement America’s economic presence in the region.
RCEP is less ambitious than the version of the TPP that was negotiated after the U.S.’s withdrawal. That agreement took effect in December. The new pact includes provisions on trade in services, investment, dispute resolution and intellectual property, but critics say it is weak on labor, human rights and environmental protections.
“To me, RCEP is a reminder that the world isn’t waiting on the United States but moving ahead without us,” said
a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Trade policy is historically an area of U.S. strength, but right now it’s the Achilles’ heel.”
Thailand said the countries involved in the drawn-out talks are committed to signing the agreement next year. Negotiations have been difficult in part because of concerns in India that Chinese goods could flood the market and dairy imports from New Zealand could hurt the country’s farmers.
Some analysts said uncertainty caused by the U.S.-China trade war and slowing global economic growth have increased the urgency for a deal that would reduce tariffs and ease commerce in the region.
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