Massive RCEP trade deal fails in areas where smaller bilateral pacts in Asia-Pacific shine

Bilateral free-trade deal between China and Cambodia is said to be a prime example of how bilateral deals can trump the benefits of RCEP.

Seven months after the world’s largest free-trade agreement (FTA) took effect, its critics say that member nations would be better off if they also signed separate bilateral trade deals with each other, because the scope of the regional deal is not comprehensive enough.

Even though the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) involves China and 14 other Asia-Pacific nations – covering nearly a third of the global population and about 30 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product – some trade experts say that relying solely on it for trade in the region leaves much to be desired.

“Zero tariffs are implemented on more than 90 per cent of tariff lines under the Cambodia-[China] FTA, while it will take 20 years to reach a similar proportion under RCEP,” she explained.

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