RCEP: Still a Work in Progress

RCEP:  Still a Work in Progress

This was supposed to be the year that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade negotiations finally wrapped up.  Once again, it will not happen. The 16 parties involved (Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam) have been talking since early 2013.  After 24 formal rounds, at least 9 ministerials, multiple informal meetings, and annual leader’s meetings, RCEP remains a work in progress. Why is it taking so long to get an agreement? The short answer is two-fold—a lack of sufficient political will and serious technical challenges in bridging the gaps between widely different member states.  The lack of political will seems surprising to many outsiders.  After all, at a time of rising global trade tensions, surely this is the best time to lock down an agreement in Asia to keep trade lanes open for mostly export-dependent trading states?