The world’s largest free trade area may be rounding into shape. Last week, Singapore’s trade minister said a broad agreement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which would include all of East and South Asia’s largest economies, would be reached by the end of this year. India, perhaps the biggest obstacle to an agreement, struck a more cautious tone, saying talks would need to extend well into 2019. Nonetheless, New Delhi confirmed that a “major breakthrough” had been achieved in talks last week, fueling new hopes about the pact.
On paper, at least, RCEP is startling in its breadth and aspiration. The 16 nations at the negotiating table account for nearly half of the global population and some 30 percent of global gross domestic product. And it is indeed striking that, in a time of surging protectionism in the West, countries in the world’s most dynamic region – one with a vast and growing consumer base that all parties are eager to tap into – are pus