Premier Li: RCEP brings light, hope to people amid challenges

After eight years of negotiations, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement was officially signed on Nov 15 at the 4th RCEP Summit held via video link.

The agreement, signed by 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries, China, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, covers 2.3 billion people and one-third of the world’s GDP, making the region the largest free trade zone.

Premier Li Keqiang said RCEP has brought hope to the world plagued by COVID-19, serious recession, shrinking global trade, and rising protectionism and unilateralism。

It is not only a landmark achievement for East Asian regional cooperation, but also a victory for multilateralism and free trade, Premier Li said.

"Global and regional economies are facing huge challenges, gripped by the epidemic," Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who holds the rotating presidency of ASEAN, said at the summit." The signing of the RCEP agreement in such a context is conducive to promoting free trade and investment as well as economic recovery after the outbreak," he added.

"It is of great significance that we have signed RCEP, against the backdrop of rising protectionism and internal consultation," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said." The only method to deal with the global crisis is to strengthen international cooperation, not weaken it." She added that the countries should firmly uphold the rule-based trading system, promote multilateralism, and reject unilateralism and protectionism.

Brunei's Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah called the signing "a landmark". Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Aun Pornmoniroth said RCEP has been "a remarkable achievement".

"In a world full of uncertainties, we will embrace exciting opportunities," said Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s state counselor.

Premier Li said the signing of RCEP, the world's largest free trade area with the largest population, diversified members and the greatest development potential, shows that multilateralism and free trade are still the mainstream and right road for the world’s economy and the people.

"In the face of challenges, people should unite for cooperation instead of conflicts and confrontation, and help each other through difficult times rather than adopting a beggar-thy-neighbor approach or wait-and-see attitude," Premier Li said. "This has shown that opening up and cooperation are the only way to achieve mutual benefits and win-win results for all countries."

Premier Li said RCEP will surely inject new strength into regional development and prosperity, and emerge as a fresh force for restoring global economic growth.

The RCEP negotiation was launched in 2010 by 10 ASEAN member countries, with its dialogue partners China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand as participants.

The signing came after three rounds of leaders meetings, 19 of ministerial meetings, and 30 rounds of official negotiations among the participating countries.

"There were numerous difficulties and hard moments during the negotiation, but we can always find creative and innovative methods to push it forward and see the conclusion," Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen said.

“The whole RCEP negotiation itself was a huge challenge, as the participating countries are at different stages of development, with different concerns, while the pandemic makes the negotiations more difficult. But we overcame all kinds of difficulties with confidence and determination, and finished the negotiation,” Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Republic of Korea (ROK) President Moon Jae-in also talked about the “strenuous effort” made by all parties during the RCEP negotiation.

"The signing of RECP shows the world that even if the countries are at different stages of development, we can still work together to promote and construct a mutually beneficial and win-win free trade agreement that will boost the development of enterprises, improve people’s lives, and benefit one-third of the world’s population,” Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said.

"Although there are still challenges ahead, the signing of the agreement has strengthened our unity and confidence," Premier Li said. "I believe that when all member countries cooperate with each other, continue to expand opening-up, enhance inclusiveness, and strive to achieve a win-win situation, there will be a bright future for East Asia and even mankind."

According to available public information, 90 percent of the commodities from RCEP members are open for trading, and investment access negotiations will be based on a negative list. The agreement will help to expand trade, business and investment exchanges between China and other countries.

After implementation of RCEP, more quality overseas commodities will be imported with lower tariffs to better satisfy domestic demands.

Compared with other free trade agreements, RCEP is more inclusive, covering commodity trade, dispute settlements, service trade and investment, as well as intellectual property rights, digital trade, finance and telecommunication.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said RCEP is just the beginning, and it needs the highest political support and resolution from all the countries. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee said its implementation also requires efforts from all the countries involved.

Republic of Korea (ROK) President Moon expressed his confidence that the agreement will promote free trade and investment, and advance fast economic recovery in the region.

Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said RCEP kicks off a new path for economic growth and further development, and sends out a signal to encourage trade and free investment.

Premier Li hoped all the parties concerned could complete their domestic approval procedures soon, to benefit enterprises and people, and coordinate the rule arrangements on tariff reductions, origin standards and facilitation measures, ensuring a smooth implementation of the agreement.

"We are willing to work together to build RCEP into a main platform for regional trade cooperation, insist on opening-up and inclusiveness, deepen mutual beneficial cooperation in all fields to benefit the people in the region," Premier Li said.

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