Tuesday, October 3, 2023

How RCEP Promotes Open Regionalism

Jayanty Nada Shofa
June 8, 2023 | 8:23 pm
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo takes a picture with other Southeast Asian leaders at the retreat session of the 42nd ASEAN Summit in Labuan Bajo on May 11, 2023. (POOL/Antara Photo/Rivan Awal Angga)
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo takes a picture with other Southeast Asian leaders at the retreat session of the 42nd ASEAN Summit in Labuan Bajo on May 11, 2023. (POOL/Antara Photo/Rivan Awal Angga)

Jakarta. ASEAN could use the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement as a means to promote open regionalism with few external trade restrictions as there is no single country in the world that can rely on a closed supply chain system, a former trade negotiator has said. 

“ASEAN must take advantage of the RCEP to continue promoting open regionalism because, at the end of the day, no country can establish a closed supply chain system. They need markets and resources like raw materials, manpower, and even technology,” Iman Pambagyo, a former director general for international trade negotiation with the Trade Ministry, said in a recent interview.

ASEAN member countries must keep the regional bloc as the anchor of the RCEP and Indonesia, as the biggest nation in the region, needs to play a major role, added Iman, who once led the Indonesian delegation for RCEP negotiations.

The RCEP comprises ten ASEAN countries namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam and their five "dialogue partners" including Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.


Initiated on Nov. 20, 2012, the RCEP agreement aims to "broaden and deepen economic integration in the region, strengthen economic growth and equitable economic development, and advance economic cooperation."

It also seeks to establish clear and mutually advantageous rules to facilitate trade and investment, including participation in regional and global supply chains for new employment opportunities and better living standards for the peoples in the regon.

The economic partnership is open to other countries as well. India has been granted accession to the RCEP for its active participation in early negotiations but the country decided to leave in 2019.

Iman, who served from 2012-2020, said other economies like Chile, Hong Kong, and Taiwan expressed interest in joining the RCEP when he chaired the negotiation. 

"Three months ago I heard that Bangladesh and Sri Lanka also wanted to join. This is what open regionalism means,” Iman said.

As for India, Iman speculated that the country discontinued participation due to China's presence. 

"I don’t want to judge them, but from what I read later on, the reason India departed is because there is China,” Iman said.

“But their bilateral economic and business ties are huge in size. Many Indian investors own businesses and factories in China. Only time will tell, but we have set up the mechanism allowing India's immediate return to the RCEP.”

The RCEP agreement eliminates tariffs of 90 percent of traded goods to boost intra-regional trade in the period of 20 years since it took effect. Indonesia began to implement the agreement early this year.

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