President Moon Jae-in officially signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest multilateral trade agreement on Sunday.
President Moon signed the partnership at the fourth RCEP summit, which took place virtually, at the presidential office on the day. “The world’s largest free trade agreement has been signed with young dynamic ASEAN as its center in the face of the challenges of Covid-19, spread of protectionism, and a crisis in multilateralism,” Moon said when signing the agreement. “We have translated into action the protection of the value of free trade.”
The world’s largest free trade agreement comprises 15 countries, including South Korea, China and Japan, plus 10 ASEAN countries, Australia and New Zealand. Their combined trade volume, GCP, and population account for a third of the world's total. The purpose of the pact is to bolster trade by lowering tariffs among its members and establishing a systematic trade and investment system.
Some critics say that with South Korea’s joining the economic partnership that is effectively spearheaded by China, Seoul will face more complex diplomatic affairs amidst tension between Washington and Beijing. When former U.S. President Barack Obama pushed to form the Trans-Pacific Pact from 2010 in a bid to block China’s expansion, Beijing started process to form the RCEP in 2012 to dodge obstacles to trade, and would urge Seoul to join.
TPP ended up collapsing as U.S. President Donald Trump, who denied multilateralism, declared withdrawal from the trade agreement in 2017. However the pact was replaced with the name “Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)” spearheaded by Japan and Australia in 2018. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has been indicating that the U.S. will return to the CPTPP ever since becoming Democratic presidential candidate.
“Like other countries China is one of the 15 countries that have joined the RCEP,” said an official at the presidential office. “If deemed necessary, South Korea could also participate in the CPTPP.”
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