“Fifteen Asia-Pacific economies formed the world’s largest free trade bloc on Sunday,” reports CNBC, “a China-backed deal that excludes the United States, which had left a rival Asia-Pacific grouping under President Donald Trump.” Amid questions over Washington’s engagement in Asia, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) may cement China’s position more firmly as an economic partner with Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea, putting the world’s second-biggest economy in a better position to shape the region’s trade rules… RCEP could help Beijing cut its dependence on overseas markets and technology, a shift accelerated by a deepening rift with Washington, said Iris Pang, ING chief economist for Greater China. RCEP groups the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. It aims in coming years to progressively lower tariffs across many areas… RCEP will account for 30% of the global economy, 30% of the global population and reach 2.2 billion consumers, Vietnam said… “For the first time, China and Japan reached a bilateral tariff reduction arrangement, achieving a historic breakthrough,” China’s finance ministry said in a statement, without giving further details. The deal marks the first time rival East Asian powers China, Japan and South Korea have been in a single free trade agreement.

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