On New Year’s Day, in the backdrop of the 2022 celebrations, the largest trading agreement in the region will enter into force.
Spanning 15 countries, (11 of which had ratified the agreement) with ambitions of integrating 30 per cent of the world’s GDP into a comprehensive trading bloc, the ‘Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership’ (RCEP) is not a simple document.
“The RCEP agreement spans over 14,000 pages,” said Senior Director of the ASEAN and Southeast Asia and Oceania divisions at Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry Sulaimah Mahmood during a webinar to raise awareness on the agreement.
“Why? Because it has 20 chapters and includes the commitments which are provided by the 15 parties and covering a wide array of topics.
“It is therefore important for businesses to familiarise themselves with the RCEP agreement in order to take advantage of the benefits of this agreement.”
The webinar was its fifth iteration, and focussed discussions on competition, government procurement, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and the economic and technical cooperation chapters.
A press statement from the ASEAN Secretariat shared that participating countries have intensified their preparatory work for the agreement at the regional and domestic levels.
Participating countries, it said, are “finalising the necessary measures and institutional arrangements to ensure effective and efficient implementation” and “laws and regulations at the domestic level” are being put into place.
Speakers and panelists at the webinar highlighted of the need for tailor-made regulations to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to be better integrated into the regional and global value chains, with governments expected to play a major role in preparing SMEs to reap the benefits the RCEP”.
The webinar underscored the need for capacity building in that area.
Ensuring that SMEs as well as micro enterprises benefit from the agreement was expressly written into the agreement as one of its 20 chapters, said Mahmood.
“Throughout the negotiation process, all RCEP member countries have been very firm that the agreement should benefit their micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which make up the majority of their companies,” she said.
“We recognise that the MSMEs contribute greatly to economic growth, employment and innovation, thus this chapter seeks to promote information sharing, cooperation and increase MSMEs’ ability to utilise and benefit from the opportunities created by this agreement.”
Another part of the agreement that businesses should be familiar with is the competition chapter.
““This chapter is highly relevant to businesses,” she said. “The RCEP countries are committed to maintaining competition law regimes based on international best practices and agreed principles.
“So businesses can look forward to RCEP countries cooperating on cross border enforcement and relevant issues, including safeguards and on the protection of confidential information.
“This protects businesses from anti-competitive activities when operating in the RCEP markets.”
Mahmood said that under the chapter for government procurement, “RCEP countries are committed under RCEP to increasing transparency by publishing laws, regulations and procedures regarding government procurement.
“The RCEP countries have also committed to review this chapter after entering force with a view to improve this chapter in the future.”
The director was clear on how much rides on the success of the agreement. It has been touted as a tool for economic recovery for the post COVID-19 pandemic era.
“It has been more than a year since COVID-19 ravaged the world,” she said.
“The signing of RCEP in 2020 is a strong testament of the region’s determination and commitment to deepening economic integration amidst difficult times.
“This achievement is another milestone and a clear commitment by the RCEP countries to push ahead and implement the RCEP agreement to support the post-COVID recovery efforts through providing more business opportunities, jobs and overall economic growth in the region.”
The webinar was hosted by the ASEAN Secretariat, in partnership with the East Asia Business Council, on December 16.
Countries that have ratified the agreement thus far are Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand Vietnam, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.