IILJ Working Paper 2017/4 (MegaReg Series)

The RCEP, New Asian Regionalism and the Global South

Pasha L. Hsieh

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This article provides an up-to-date examination of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is poised to become the world’s largest free trade agreement (FTA).  It argues that the 16-country mega-FTA will galvanize the paradigm shift in Asian regionalism and build a normative foundation for the Global South in international economic law.  Based on intertwined theoretical and substantive claims, this article opens an inquiry into the assertive legalism of developing nations in the new regional economic order.

By analyzing the converging policies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China and India, the article first demonstrates the status of the RCEP in Asian powers’ contemporary FTA practice.  In light of the ASEAN Economic Community and the now-eleven member Trans-Pacific Partnership, caution should be given to the utilization of tariff preferences, services liberalization and investor-state dispute settlement.  Finally, the article assesses the RCEP’s systemic impact on the legal fragmentation due to jurisdictional conflicts under trade and investment agreements.  The consolidation of divergent trade rules and the pro-development operative mechanism will fortify the RCEP as a pathway to the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific and reinvigorate the multilateral trading system.