Lim Jock Hoi Photo: Kusuma Pandu Wijaya/Asean Secretariat/dpa

JAKARTA: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi said the bloc had a momentous day when leaders of its member states, Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand witnessed the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement.

He called the signing a historic event “as it underpins Asean’s role in leading a multilateral trade agreement of this magnitude, despite global and regional challenges and eight years of negotiations”, reports Vietnam News Agency (VNA).

“RCEP will give a much-needed boost for a swift and robust recovery for businesses and peoples in our region particularly during the current Covid-19 pandemic crisis,” the official added.

RCEP is the Asean’s biggest free-trade pact to date, covering a market of 2.2 billion people with a combined size of $26.2 trillion or 30 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The deal, upon entry into force, will improve market access with tariffs and quotas eliminated in over 65 per cent of goods traded.

Having 20 Chapters, 17 Annexes and 54 schedules of commitments covering market access, rules and disciplines, and economic and technical cooperation, it will make business predictable with common rules of origin and transparent regulations.

This will encourage firms to invest more in the region, including building supply chains and services, and to generate jobs.

Negotiations of RCEP, beginning in 2013, were led by Iman Pambagyo, Director-General of Indonesia’s Ministry of Trade, and were supported by the Asean Secretariat.

The virtual signing of the pact by ministers of countries involved took place following the conclusion of the 4th RCEP Summit on Sunday, as part of the 37th Asean Summit and Related Summits hosted by Vietnam. – Bernama