World’s largest free trade deal signed by 15 countries

Fifteen countries of the Asia Pacific have come together to sign the world’s largest free trade deal. Internationally it is being looked at as a huge coup for China in extending its influence in the region. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) includes 10 Southeast Asian economies along with China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia, with members accounting for around 30 percent of global GDP.

The agreement to lower tariffs and open up the services trade within the bloc does not include the United States and is viewed as a Chinese-led alternative the Washington trade initiative.

Many of the signatories of the free trade deal are battling severe coronavirus outbreaks and they are also hoping the RCEP will help mitigate the crippling economic cost of the pandemic.

The deal is also seen as a way for China to draft the rules of trade in the region, after years of US retreat under President Donald Trump which have seen Washington pull out of a trade pact of its own, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).