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Signatory nations to unleash each other's potential

By Wang Qingyun Source: China Daily Updated: May 30, 2022

All signatories to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership should continue to promote the free trade pact's implementation steadily to turn the massive economic potential into competitiveness and boost East Asia's economic integration, the leader of a think tank said at a forum on Sunday.

Chi Fulin, president of the China Institute for Reform and Development, said pushing the work ahead will also further enhance the status of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in regional economic cooperation frameworks.

Calling on countries to implement the RCEP's rules for and commitments to opening up markets as soon as possible, Chi said the RCEP will be the trading bloc with the most economic vitality in the world and will unleash development potential in the region.

The largest free trade agreement in the world, the RCEP was signed by all 10 ASEAN member states and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand in November 2020.

From January to May this year, the pact came into effect for 13 of its 15 signatories, including China.

RCEP countries, which generated more than 30 percent of global GDP in 2019, will account for more than 50 percent by 2030, according to an HSBC report.

All RCEP members will benefit from the free trade pact, and ASEAN member states will benefit more than others in terms of real GDP growth rate, according to a report from the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation.

Openness is the greatest driving force for the RCEP, and China will make important contributions in this regard, Chi said.

China, which is going through an economic structural transformation and enhancing the openness of its services industry, will increase imports of services from RCEP members in the post-pandemic era at a fast pace, especially in tourism, health, intellectual property rights, telecommunications, finance and insurance, he added.

China and ASEAN, "the two most dynamic markets with the largest growth potential" will further integrate under the RCEP, Chi said, adding that China and ASEAN are becoming more complementary and important to each other's trade and economy.

China has been ASEAN's largest trading partner for 13 consecutive years, while ASEAN was China's largest trading partner in 2020 and 2021.

Both sides lifted their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership in November 2021, when they convened a special summit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of bilateral dialogue relations.

In his address to the summit, President Xi Jinping called on both sides to fully harness the role of the RCEP and begin working toward further upgrading the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area soon.

The move is a major step taken to deepen and consolidate the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership, Chi said on Sunday, pointing out that China will bring more opportunities to ASEAN and continue to be its largest market.

China's Hainan Free Trade Port has the right conditions to become an important hub for developing the partnership due to its favorable location and policies, Chi said.

Located near ASEAN countries, Hainan has close people-to-people exchanges with them, Chi said, adding that it is also "at the center of the RCEP region".

The port not only has China's "super-scale market" behind it, but also "has been implementing the highest level of opening-up policy", the scholar said.

Chi also proposed establishing a "think tank network" among RCEP countries.

Since the pact came into effect, the RCEP region has embraced huge development opportunities, but it also faces serious challenges from changes in the geopolitical landscape, Chi said.

"Against this special backdrop, it is even more important to give full play to the role of think tanks and media," he said, adding that the network aims to promote cooperative studies and dialogue and lend intellectual support to the advancement of the RCEP process.

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