The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a comprehensive free trade agreement being negotiated between the 10 ASEAN Member States and ASEAN’s free trade agreement (FTA) partners viz. Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand. RCEP reflects the emerging trade and economic architecture globally. It should not be seen in isolation but in the context of other comprehensive FTAs that are emerging i.e. the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the newly launched Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) involving the United States and the European Union. In the context of comprehensive regional trading arrangements across the globe, TPP would cover the western flank with TTIP as the central flank and RCEP as the eastern flank. Therefore RCEP is of strategic importance for India both in the context of its look East policy and the comprehensive nature of the engagement.
Before June 2013, the RCEP process was being conducted under the ASEAN and FTA Partners Senior Economic Officials Meetings (SEOM) which has now been replaced with the RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee (RCEP-TNC) which is the apex negotiating body.
The “Guiding Principles and Objectives for Negotiating RCEP”, adopted by Economic Ministers in August 2012, lays down some principles like broader and deeper engagement with significant improvements over the existing FTAs while recognizing the individual and diverse circumstances of countries; facilitate countries engagement in global and regional supply chains; taking into account the different levels of development of participating countries etc. It also identifies the areas for negotiations such as goods, services, investment, economic & technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition and dispute settlement with a flexibility to identify other areas.
While three working groups i.e. Working Group on Trade in Goods (WGTIG), Working Group on Trade in Services (WGTIS) and Working Group on Investment (WGI) were set up under the AFP SEOM Consultation mechanism; three new working groups on competition, intellectual property and economic & technical cooperation (ECOTECH) were established in the 4th RCEP meeting held from 31 March-4 April, 2014 in Nanning, China. A new working group on “Legal and Institutional Issues” was set up in the 5th RCEP meeting that was held in Singapore from 21-27 June, 2014. Four sub working groups reporting to the working group on trade in goods have been established on rules of origin (ROO), customs procedures & trade facilitation (CPTF), SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary measures) and STRACAP (standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures). Hence institutionally apart from the TNC, there are 7 working groups and 4 sub working groups
The 6th RCEP meeting would be held from 1-5 December, 2014 in India.
Some of the key subjects that have been discussed in the working groups are tariff modalities in goods, listing of services and investment, elements of the RCEP chapters and possible texts thereof, intellectual property, competition, economic and technical cooperation, legal and institutional issues, customs procedures and trade facilitation, rules of origin etc.