New Southeast Asian trade deal gets closer

The Malaysian business community is abuzz with excitment over recent positive developments in regional trade. Although India pulled out at the last minute, 15 other countries—the ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in addition to China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand—agreed in Bangkok on plans for what could become the world’s biggest trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Countries aim to sign the agreement next year to start freeing up trade between members.

Few details have been released, but the agreement will progressively lower tariffs across many areas. Its backers say that, just as importantly, the agreement will let companies export the same product anywhere within the bloc without having to meet separate requirements and complete separate paperwork for each country.

The 15 participating countries make up nearly one-third of the world’s people (it would have been nearly half with India) and nearly one-third of global domestic product. India can join later, if it wishes.