For now, the RCEP appears to have few attractions
Fifteen Asia-Pacific economies signed what could become the world's largest free trade agreement on Sunday, covering nearly a third of the global population and about 30 per cent of its global gross domestic product.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will progressively lower tariffs and aims to counter protectionism, boost investment and allow freer movement of goods within the region.
Joining the pact -- which involves China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN): Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines -- was never on the table for Bangladesh.
“This is for the ASEAN member countries that have already signed afree trade agreement (FTA). As we are not eligible for joining as per the terms and conditions, we could not join the RCEP,” Commerce Secretary Md Jafar Uddin told Dhaka Tribune.
Since it is for ASEAN members, not only Bangladesh but also Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are not eligible for joining the economic partnership.
“However, we are analysing the impact of the newly inked trade partnership to see whether it would be lucrative or not for us. Nothing is ever fixed in the world of trade and the future direction would be set based on the trade trend and mutual benefits among the partners.”
Right now, Bangladesh’s focus is on hammering out bilateral trade deals, Uddin said.
“We are intensively working on it so that Bangladesh can improve its trade in the region as well as with the global partners,” he said, adding Bangladesh’s impending preferential trade agreement (PTA) with Bhutan by next month as a case in point.
Like Bangladesh, neighbouring India has stayed out of RCEP and does not expect to sign the agreement ever, despite the open invitation from the 15-member group.
India’s definitive stance comes after it reached out to its business community to educate them on the goals of RCEP.
The response was not enthusiastic as business felt it would be swamped by imports with low duties, which it would not be able to compete with. This prompted the neighbouring country to forfeit the opening of joining the mega trade pact.
For Bangladesh, the RCEP appears to have few attractions. In fiscal 2019-20, of the total exports amounting to $33.7 billion, the RCEP countries accounted for about 10.4 per cent of the sum.
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