15 nations sign RCEP, first trade pact between Japan and China, South Korea

TOKYO, Nov. 16 – Fifteen Asia-Pacific nations including Japan, China, South Korea and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held an online summit meeting on Nov. 15, concluding negotiations and signing the Regional Economic Partnership trade deal.

Japan will maintain its current tariffs on five agricultural products it regards as domestically important – rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar – as well as chicken and poultry products.

The government sees the latest pact would not have any particular impact on the domestic agricultural sector, since less items would be subject to tariff elimination compared to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

RCEP is an economic partnership framework launched in 2012 by 16 countries – also including Australia, New Zealand and India. The pact was signed by 15 members except for India which pulled out from the negotiations in the end of last year.

It is the first trade agreement Japan signed with China and South Korea.

RCEP will take effect after it is ratified by at least six ASEAN members and three non-ASEAN countries.

The Japanese government plans to submit a bill to ratify the pact to the regular Diet session next year. Trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office following the online signing ceremony that the government will aim at putting the pact into effect “as quickly as possible.”

The countries also agreed to review the deal five years after it takes effect.

Under the agreement, Japan set the tariff elimination rate for farm produce to less than the rate of 82 percent under the TPP or the economic partnership agreement between Japan and the European Union.

Japan will abolish tariffs on 56 percent of farm products imported from China, while phasing out the 9 percent tariffs on frozen processed vegetables including ready meals and mixed vegetable tempura as well as on dried vegetables including freeze-dried vegetables used in instant foods.

The agriculture ministry said levies on such products will be abolished in stages because for some of the items it is difficult to meet all the domestic demand only with local products and for other items domestically-made products are differentiated from imported ones.

Meanwhile, Japan will retain the current tariffs on onions, Welsh onions and carrots from China.

The extent of Japan’s tariff elimination on agriculture imports from South Korea will be kept as low as 49 percent, as levies for basically all the vegetables will be maintained, while tariffs will be abolished on 61 percent of farm products imported from ASEAN countries, Australia and New Zealand.

The farm ministry’s policy planning division said the domestic agriculture, forestry and fisheries industry will not be affected by the pact in particular.

As for agricultural and food items exported from Japan, China’s tariffs on packed cooked rice, rice snacks and cut flowers will be reduced gradually and eventually be abolished. Indonesia’s tariffs on beef as well as China and South Korea’s tariffs on sake, shochu and whisky will be eliminated.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who attended the RCEP summit meeting and the signing ceremony online, said, “As the global economy is weakened amid the COVID-19 pandemic and inward-looking tendencies are seen, it is important more than ever to promote free trade.”

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