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China and 14 other nations ready to sign RCEP, world’s largest trade deal

  • The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is expected to be signed this weekend during video meetings hosted by Asean

  • In the absence of the US from trading blocs, China seeks opportunities to write regional trade rules, say observers

China is expected to sign a mega regional trade deal with 14 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region this weekend, wrapping up a major agreement before the next United States administration comes into office, Chinese officials said on Wednesday.

Leaders from China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are expected sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as they meet via teleconference on Sunday, according to Chinese officials.

“Up till now, all negotiations have been completed. We are working diligently on the legal reviews of all text in the agreement, and we hope that we would be able to sign the agreement at the leaders’ summit,” assistant minister of commerce Li Chenggang told a press briefing on Wednesday.

The signing of the agreement will be one aspect of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s attendance at the series of teleconference meetings hosted by Asean from Thursday to Sunday.

In forming what would be the world’s largest trade deal following eight years of negotiations, the 15 countries comprise close to one-third of the world’s population and global gross domestic product, dwarfing other regional trading blocs such as the European Union, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a rival trade bloc that went into effect in 2018 following the withdrawal in 2017 of the US under President Donald Trump. Regional trade observers have said the US’ absence from both RCEP and CPTPP has encouraged regional countries to look elsewhere for leadership. China has looked to RCEP as an opportunity to write regional trade rules and diversify its avenues of trade amid declining economic relations with the United States.

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