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Procedures for countries to join RCEP to be ready by 2024

Jakarta Globe - 12 October 2023

Procedures for countries to join RCEP to be ready by 2024

The ASEAN Secretariat said Wednesday that the preliminary work to allow more countries to join the world’s largest trade deal RCEP was underway, with the procedures for the accession to possibly be ready by next year.

The RCEP –- short for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement -– currently has 15 members, including the 10 ASEAN countries. The agreement, which seeks to get rid of trade barriers, is now in effect for all 15 members. The RCEP is open to other countries as well. Economies such as Sri Lanka and Hong Kong have expressed interest in being part of the trading bloc.

According to Deputy Secretary-General for ASEAN Economic Community Satvinder Singh, the procedures for any potential newcomers are in the works. Once they are all set, interested countries can start the formal negotiation process to be part of the RCEP.

"We are at this stage of preparing the groundwork for the accession rules. We are very quick in finalizing them. Once that is done and finalized, it will lead to the start of the negotiations of potential accession by the respective countries," Singh told reporters at the sidelines of a UOB bank conference in Jakarta on Wednesday.

When asked if there was already a specific timeline on when the said accession rules could be ready, Singh said: "It is very hard for me to say. But we are hoping by 2024.”

Singh added that “the way the ASEAN-led RCEP is structured, we are opening the doors for new countries to come and explore joining the RCEP.”

Today, the RCEP encompasses the 10 ASEAN member states, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, representing 30 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP). The RCEP came into force in Indonesia in Jan. 2023. This agreement will eliminate up to 90 percent of the tariffs imposed on the goods traded within the bloc over 20 years of coming into effect.

India was an original negotiating member of the RCEP but withdrew from the talks a year before the negotiations came to a conclusion. New Delhi feared that the RCEP could lead to a surge of imported goods, particularly from China.

The RCEP ministers in August gathered for a meeting in Semarang, Central Java. A joint media statement issued following the talks mentioned the accession procedures.

“The meeting noted that progress has been made in the discussions pertaining to the procedures for accession to the RCEP Agreement,” the joint press statement reads.

The meeting also called for the RCEP joint committee —which comprises the members’ senior officials— to achieve the accession procedures “in a timely manner”.

 source: Jakarta Globe