China, Japan, Korea, and 12 other Asia-Pacific nations signed Nov. 15 the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which they billed as “the world’s largest [free trade agreement] to date.” The agreement’s signatories, which also include Australia and New Zealand and the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), comprise about 30 percent of global gross domestic product and close to a third of the world’s population. The agreement will enter into force once nine of the signatories have deposited their instruments of ratification, a process that a Reuters article said “will take months to start and years to complete.”

According to information from Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, provisions and benefits of the RCEP include the following.

- comprehensive coverage, with 20 chapters spanning both traditional and emerging issues (although labor rights and environmental standards are not among them)

- elimination of tariffs on at least 92 percent of goods traded among member countries over the next decade (although a New York Times article said most of these are already eligible for duty-free treatment under existing agreements) and stronger provisions to allow duty-free temporary admission of goods into the region

- stronger provisions to address non-tariff measures, including allowing members to enter into stronger binding commitments to improve the transparency of import regulations

- a streamlined, single set of rules of origin as well as regional cumulation provisions

- simplified customs procedures and enhanced trade facilitation provisions to allow expeditious clearance of goods, including the release of express consignments and perishable goods within six hours of arrival

- improved market access for trade in services, with at least 65 percent of services sectors fully open and increased foreign shareholding limits in professional services, telecommunications, financial services, computer and related services, and distribution and logistics services

- commitments to prohibit performance requirements on investors as conditions for entering, expanding, or operating in member countries and to not adopt more restrictive measures in the future

- e-commerce enhancements in areas such as online consumer protection, online personal information protection, transparency, paperless trading, and acceptance of electronic signatures

- commitments on cross-border data flows that a ZDNet article said will “ensure that signatories do not prevent business data and information from being transferred across borders” and “prevent countries from imposing measures that require computing facilities to be located within their own territories”

- increased standards of intellectual property protection and enforcement, including protection for non-traditional trademarks and a wider range of industrial designs

- commitments to publish laws, regulations, and procedures regarding government procurement as well as tender opportunities if available

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