China looks forward to the RCEP coming into force
By Wang Jun  ·  2021-04-07  ·   Source: NO.14 APRIL 8, 2021
A duty-free shop in Haikou, Hainan Province, on October 4, 2020 (XINHUA)

Jilin Province enjoys bustling trade with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and four other Asia-Pacific economies, all of whom signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement together with China last year, creating the largest free trade bloc in the world.

Since then, the customs authorities at Changchun, the provincial capital, have been closely monitoring the development of the agreement's ratification process, anticipating greater import and export traffic. At a press conference on March 19, Xie Bin, Deputy Director of Changchun Customs, said the agency is ready to help enterprises make good use of the policies and tariff reduction the RCEP will bring.

In 2020, Jilin's foreign trade was worth 128.01 billion yuan ($19.57 billion), of which 26.69 billion yuan ($4.08 billion) came from trade with other RCEP member states, accounting for nearly 21 percent of its entire volume.

Northeast China, where Jilin is located, is a traditional industrial base and major agricultural producer in the country. But its development has lagged behind other parts due to slow industrial transformation and declining investment. As efforts to revitalize the region have been stepped up, Jilin has planned 13 cross-border trade routes in all directions to promote connectivity and widen its opening up.

"With the official implementation of the RCEP, Jilin will accelerate building a new development paradigm and promote high-quality economic growth," Xie said.

RCEP update

China has already ratified the RCEP agreement. At a policy briefing held by the State Council Information Office on March 25, Wang Shouwen, Vice Minister of Commerce, said, "China has taken the lead in ratifying the RCEP, which shows the Chinese Government attaches great importance to the agreement and fully supports it to enter into force at an early date."

Wang also said a special taskforce has been created for implementing the RCEP. The participating economies have agreed to hold a joint committee meeting every two months for updates on their domestic ratification progress. All of them have made it clear that they are pushing to ratify the agreement before the end of this year. The goal is to make it come into force on January 1, 2022. At least six ASEAN members and three non-ASEAN members have to ratify the pact for it to come into force.

The Ministry of Commerce and other authorities have sorted out 701 binding obligations for China under the RCEP, and have completed preparations for implementing 613 items, or 87 percent of its obligations, Wang said. They range from tariff concessions to simplification of customs procedures and commitment to drawing up negative lists to clarify the areas out of bounds for investors.

Preparations for the remaining items will be completed before the agreement enters into force, according to Wang.

"In the future, trade in services will be an important growth point for the Asia-Pacific region. The RCEP has commitments to open up the sector, which will promote its significant growth," Wang said.

The service industries of various countries are accelerating their recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic, which will boost regional economic growth. Wang said the RCEP's commitments to openness in trade in services involve more than 100 sectors such as finance, telecommunications, transportation, tourism, as well as research and development.

RCEP members have also promised to convert the positive list-based management approach for investment into a negative list-based one within six years after the agreement takes effect. This will clarify which areas are restricted for investors.

All this means the opening up of trade in services will be more stable, which will promote the post-pandemic development of transportation, tourism, education and other service industries in RCEP member states, facilitate people-to-people exchanges and boost economic growth in the region, Wang said.

Seizing opportunities

On March 9, the Port of Xiamen in Fujian Province opened a new Maritime Silk Road route connecting with Ho Chi Minh City Port in Viet Nam, adding another sea channel for its trade with ASEAN members.

"On this route, container vessels embarking from Xiamen every Tuesday arrive at the Ho Chi Minh City Port in three days," Chen Yun, General Manager of the Marketing Department of Xiamen Port Holding Group, which manages the Port of Xiamen, told China News Service.

Chen said the operating efficiency of the new route is 30 percent higher compared with conventional routes, highlighting the competitiveness of the Port of Xiamen and attracting more cargo orders.

Fujian will benefit greatly from the RCEP. According to the Fuzhou Customs of Fujian, in the first two months this year, the coastal province in southeast China realized double-digit growth in trade with all its major trading partners, ASEAN being the largest one. It exported 46.71 billion yuan ($7.14 billion) worth of goods to the bloc, a year-on-year increase of 44.2 percent.

The RCEP will specifically benefit China's automobile and cross-border e-commerce, according to a report released by the China Macroeconomy Forum (CMF) at a seminar on March 10.

Wang Xiaosong, a professor at the School of Economics at Renmin University of China, said at the event that the automobile industry will enjoy important opportunities after the RCEP comes into effect. "China will reduce duty to zero on around 65 percent of imported auto parts, which currently pay 6-10 percent tariff," he said.

In the past decade Asia has become the world's largest regional automotive market, and the Southeast Asian market in particular has maintained robust growth. According to the professor, the reduction in tariff on auto parts due to the RCEP will integrate the automobile supply and industrial chains in East Asia. This will reduce production costs and further release the advantages of Chinese enterprises in the industrial chain.

According to the CMF report, the trade facilitation provisions of the RCEP will also improve the efficiency of customs clearance and logistics, unleash potentials in the regional consumption market and promote the optimization of supply chains and resources.

Wang Xiaosong called on local governments to avail of the possible industrial transfer opportunities the RCEP might bring. Regions with sound industrial foundation should encourage upstream industrial chains of higher added value to stay in the regions; regions with advantages in labor costs could cooperate with those needing industrial transfer to host labor-intensive industries and promote local economic growth, according to him.

"In general, the RCEP will promote the stability of China's foreign trade and investment, help improve the standards of Chinese products, advance industrial upgrading and promote high-quality development of the Chinese economy," Wang Shouwen said. 

(Print Edition Title: Counting the Benefits)

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

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