The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement is an agreement to broaden and deepen ASEAN’s engagement with Australia, China, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand. Together, these RCEP participating countries account for about 30% of the global GDP and 30% of the world population. The objective of the RCEP Agreement is to establish a modern, comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial economic partnership that will facilitate the expansion of regional trade and investment and contribute to global economic growth and development. Accordingly, it will bring about the market and employment opportunities to businesses and people in the region. The RCEP Agreement will work alongside and support an open, inclusive, and rules-based multilateral trading system.

JOINT LEADERS’ STATEMENT ON THE REGIONAL COMPREHENSIVE ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP (RCEP)

We, the Heads of State/Government of the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam – Australia, China, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand, met virtually on 15 November 2020, on the occasion of the 4th RCEP Summit.

We were pleased to witness the signing of the RCEP Agreement, which comes at a time when the world is confronted with the unprecedented challenge brought about by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic. In light of the adverse impact of the pandemic on our economies, and our people’s livelihood and well-being, the signing of the RCEP Agreement demonstrates our strong commitment to supporting economic recovery, inclusive development, job creation, and strengthening regional supply chains as well as our support for an open, inclusive, rules-based trade and investment arrangement. We acknowledge that the RCEP Agreement is critical for our region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and will play an important role in building the region’s resilience through an inclusive and sustainable post-pandemic economic recovery process.

We note that the RCEP Agreement is an unprecedented mega-regional trading arrangement that comprises a diverse mix of developed, developing, and least-developed economies of the region. As an agreement that would cover a market of 2.2 billion people, or almost 30% of the world’s population, with a combined GDP ofUS$ 26.2 trillion or about 30% of global GDP, and accounts for nearly 28% of global trade (based on 2019 figures), we believe that RCEP, being the world’s largest free trade arrangement, represents an important step forward towards an ideal framework of global trade and investment rules.

We also note that the RCEP agreement is the most ambitious free trade agreement initiated by ASEAN, which contributes to enhancing ASEAN centrality in regional

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frameworks and strengthening ASEAN cooperation with regional partners. With 20 Chapters, the RCEP Agreement, as a modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial agreement, includes areas and disciplines that were not previously covered in the existing free trade agreements between ASEAN and non-ASEAN countries participating in RCEP. Aside from the specific provisions that cover trade in goods and services, and investment, RCEP also includes chapters on intellectual property, electronic commerce, competition, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), economic and technical cooperation, and government procurement. We are confident that the RCEP Agreement would open a vast range of opportunities for businesses located in the region especially in terms of market access given the level of liberalization for trade in goods and services and investment.

We agreed that the opportunities accruing from the RCEP Agreement and its full potential can only be realized once the Agreement enters into force. Towards this end, we task our officials to expedite respective domestic ratification procedures for the early entry into force of the Agreement, which will take place when at least six the ASEAN Member States and three non-ASEAN signatories deposit their instrument of ratification, acceptance, or approval with the Agreement’s Depositary. We have also asked Ministers to develop RCEP as a platform for dialogue and cooperation on trade and economic issues affecting the region and to report to us regularly.

We are committed to ensuring that RCEP remains an open and inclusive agreement. Further, we would highly value India’s role in RCEP and reiterate that the RCEP remains open to India. As one of the 16 original participating countries, India’s accession to the RCEP Agreement would be welcome in view of its participation in RCEP negotiations since 2012 and its strategic importance as a regional partner in creating deeper and expanded regional value chains. In this regard, we welcomed the “Ministers’ Declaration on India’s participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)” affirmed by the RCEP Ministers, as attached.

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Ministers’ Declaration on
India’s Participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

11 November 2020

The RCEP Ministers of the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam – Australia, China, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand (the RCEP Signatory States), recognizing that India is not in a position to sign the RCEP Agreement in 2020 together with the RCEP Signatory States, and acknowledging the strategic importance of India eventually becoming a party to the RCEP Agreement to create a region of even deeper and expanded value chains for the benefit of all people in the region and contribute further to the development of the global economy, have confirmed the following:

  1. The RCEP Agreement is open for accession by India from the date of entry into force of the Agreement as provided in Article 20.9 (Accession) of the RCEP Agreement;
  2. The RCEP Signatory States will commence negotiations with India at any time after the signing of the RCEP Agreement once India submits a request in writing of its intention to accede to the RCEP Agreement to the Depositary of the RCEP Agreement, taking into consideration the latest status of India’s participation in the RCEP negotiations and any new development thereafter; and
  3. Any time prior to its accession to the Agreement, India may participate in RCEP meetings as an observer and in economic cooperation activities undertaken by the RCEP Signatory States under the RCEP Agreement, on terms and conditions to be jointly decided upon by the RCEP Signatory States.

Expressing their strong will to re-engage India in the RCEP Agreement, the RCEP Ministers affirmed that the abovementioned arrangements will commence on the date of the signing of the RCEP Agreement, and will continue until India accedes to the RCEP Agreement.