15 Asia-Pacific countries sign biggest regional trade deal ever
Over a dozen Asia Pacific nations inked the largest regional free trade agreement ever at the weekend, spanning a third of the world's population and gross domestic product.
On Sunday, officials from 15 nations, including Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Most of the region's main stockmarket gauges gained on the back of the news, with the Japanese Nikkei-225 and South Korea's Kospi pacing the advance, rising by 2.05% to 25,906.93 and by 1.97% to 2,543.03, respectively.
Making negotiations easier, some observers said, was New Delhi's decision to exit talks a year earlier, due to the Indian government's reservations on what the deal could mean for the lowest income workers in the country.
Nevertheless, a clause in the agreement allows for India to sign-up if and when it chooses to do so.
The signing took place at the 37th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which was hosted by Vietnam.
However, at least six ASEAN nations and another three from outside that trade bloc must ratify the deal before it becomes binding.
Combined, the signatories account for 2.2bn of the world's population and $26.2trn of world GDP.
Under the terms of the deal, tariffs on goods traded between RCEP member states will be cut by at least 92%, provisions against non-tariff discrimination have been strengthened, 65% of countries' services sectors will be opened and limits on foreign shareholdings increased.
The underlying rationale was to lift countries' potential rate of growth, which among other things will help speed countries' recovery from the pandemic.