Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a free trade agreement (FTA) among 15 Asia-Pacific countries. It includes 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Additionally, five other countries are part of the agreement: China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. The RCEP aims to foster economic integration and promote trade and investment among its member nations.

Signing and Implications

After eight years of negotiations, the RCEP was signed on November 15, 2020. This historic agreement is set to create the world’s largest trading bloc, covering approximately 30% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) and population. The inclusion of major economies like China, Japan, and South Korea, along with the ASEAN nations, signifies the significant economic potential of the RCEP.

India’s Withdrawal

Initially, India was part of the RCEP negotiations, but it withdrew from the talks in November 2019. The decision to withdraw was driven by concerns about potential negative impacts on domestic industries and agriculture. India was particularly apprehensive about the potential influx of cheap goods from China, which could adversely affect its manufacturing sector and trade deficit.

India’s Role in the RCEP

India’s withdrawal from the RCEP negotiations was perceived as a setback for the agreement. India’s large market, with a population of over 1.3 billion, could have added substantial economic and geopolitical weight to the deal. Nevertheless, India has chosen to remain outside the RCEP for the time being, focusing on bolstering its domestic industries and exports.

India’s Approach

India’s current approach is centered on strengthening its domestic industries and exports rather than joining the RCEP. However, the country has expressed interest in engaging with RCEP countries on a bilateral basis to address its concerns and explore the possibility of joining the agreement in the future. India has already signed FTAs with several RCEP countries, including Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. Furthermore, India is currently negotiating FTAs with Australia and New Zealand.


The RCEP presents significant opportunities and challenges for its member countries. By creating a vast integrated market, the agreement aims to facilitate trade flows, reduce barriers, and enhance economic cooperation. The increased market access can stimulate economic growth, attract foreign investment, and foster technological exchange among member nations.

For countries like China, Japan, and South Korea, the RCEP provides access to large consumer markets within ASEAN and improved trade relations with each other. It also enhances their regional influence and economic connectivity.

For ASEAN member states, the RCEP fosters greater regional integration and economic cooperation. The agreement reinforces ASEAN’s role as a hub for regional trade and investment, providing opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to expand their markets.

Australia and New Zealand benefit from the RCEP by securing improved market access to major Asian economies. The agreement allows them to diversify their export destinations and deepen economic ties within the region.

However, challenges exist. Harmonizing trade rules and regulations among diverse economies is a complex task. Disparities in labor standards, intellectual property rights, and market access could lead to unequal benefits and potential tensions among member countries. Furthermore, the RCEP’s impact on specific industries and sectors within member countries will vary, requiring careful domestic policy adjustments.

Table: RCEP Member Countries

ASEAN Members Other Member Countries
Brunei China
Cambodia Japan
Indonesia South Korea
Laos Australia
Malaysia New Zealand
The Philippines


Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a significant free trade agreement among 15 Asia-Pacific countries. While India’s withdrawal from the RCEP negotiations was viewed as a setback, the agreement remains poised to create the world’s largest trading bloc. India’s current approach focuses on strengthening domestic industries and exports but leaves open the possibility of future engagement with the RCEP. The RCEP presents opportunities for increased trade and economic cooperation among its member nations, but challenges exist in harmonizing diverse economies and addressing disparities in regulations and market access. Overall, the RCEP has the potential to reshape regional economic dynamics and foster greater integration in the Asia-Pacific region.

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