On Sunday, 15 Asian countries signed the largest trade agreement ever concluded. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement covers about a third of the world's production. Among the parties to the agreement initiated by China are close allies of the United States - Australia, Japan, and South Korea. The press is speculating about how disruptive the agreement really is вЂ” and what Europe should count on.
Not ideal, but a big step forward
Free trade is always good, even if the flaws are not yet fixed, Corriere del Ticino argues:
вЂњThe aspect that raises some doubts is that the driving force here is China, that is, a country that, although it supports free trade at the international level, at the same time practices comprehensive statism both in its domestic political life and in economic policy ... In addition, in the opinion of many observers, the agreement does not pay sufficient attention to issues of labor law and law in the field of environmental protection. All these doubts are well-founded, but it is obvious that the agreement will still need to be checked and rechecked in the future. Nevertheless, it should be noted that at the moment it is the positive aspect that is extremely important. Namely: a major new agreement has been signed, aimed not at waging trade wars, but at liberalizing trade. вЂњ
Free trade вЂ” in the Chinese sense
If someone dares to believe that China at the moment became an ardent champion of free trade, then he is deeply mistaken, writes Lidove news:
вЂњExport and free trade are beneficial to all parties to the agreement. Why should China, which according to certain criteria is the largest economy in the world and important industrial power, be an exception? The answer is yes, China is an exception simply because it is not at all inclined towards free trade. In Beijing's eyes, вЂњfreeвЂќ means вЂњon Chinese terms.вЂќ According to the Beijing plan, it should provide China with an advantage in the international arena, but Beijing is by no means going to open its domestic market. The Chinese rather want to ensure that other countries do not impede the flow of Chinese goods of dubious quality to their markets.вЂњ
It doesn't look like a breakthrough!
According to The Economist, there is no need to talk about a breakthrough in terms of real freedom of trade:
вЂњThe roots of this agreement are more likely to go to the desire to clean up the rubble and put things in order in the house, namely: to combine many disparate free trade agreements into one common agreement. ... The new agreement is not as ambitious as one would expect from a document, among the signatories of which are both very rich countries вЂ” for example, Japan and Singapore, and very poor вЂ” such as Laos and Myanmar. According to some estimates, the agreement will eventually eliminate about 90 percent of customs duties, but this process will take no less than 20 years after the document enters into force. ... The agreement slightly affects the service sector and practically does not concern agriculture. For example, Japan will maintain high customs duties on a number of 'politically important' goods (rice, wheat, beef, pork, dairy products, and sugar). вЂњ
Europe wants to have its say too
Of course, Europe would not want to be left on the sidelines, writes La Stampa:
вЂњThe relations between the EU and Asia are developing well and, as European diplomatic sources emphasize, are not being questioned. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that the current negotiating conditions will sooner or later be revised. Joe Biden's election as President of the United States could also signal a general detente. So, the approximate framework of this largest international trade agreement has already been determined вЂ” but now Europe wants to play its card.вЂњ