China’s largest “circle of friends” landed U.S. media: Biden fears no time to deal with it

On November 15, China and 15 other countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), the world’s largest free trade agreement was finally born. The US media said this is a major challenge for the United States, but the incoming Biden (Joe Biden) may not have time to deal with it.

The New York Times reported on Nov. 15 that after eight years of negotiations, China and 14 other countries, including Japan, New Zealand and Myanmar, formally signed the world’s largest regional free trade agreement on Sunday, an agreement designed by Beijing in part to balance U.S. influence in the region. The agreement, called RCEP, is limited in scope. Nonetheless, it has considerable symbolic significance. The agreement covers 2.2 billion people, more than any previous regional free trade agreement, and has the potential to help China further cement its image as a dominant economic power in its neighborhood.

The report noted that the agreement was also signed after the United States withdrew from a comprehensive trade agreement that reshaped global relations. Almost four years ago, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact that covers a broader area than RCEP and had been widely seen as a Washington-led response to China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region. President-elect Biden has been vague on whether he would join the agreement to succeed the TPP.

The TPP had been heavily criticized by both Republicans and Democrats for exposing U.S. businesses to foreign competition, according to reports. The agreement remains fraught with controversy, and Biden has yet to say whether he will rejoin the deal, which has been rechristened the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), after he takes office. But analysts say it is unlikely to be a priority. Biden has said he would postpone negotiations on any new trade deal. He wants to focus on controlling the new coronary pneumonia (COVID-19) epidemic, reviving the economy, and investing in U.S. manufacturing and technology.

The report stresses, however, that to some trade experts, the signing of RCEP shows that the rest of the world will not wait for the United States. The European Union is also picking up the pace of trade negotiations. As other countries sign new agreements, U.S. exporters could gradually lose market share. “While the U.S.’s main focus right now is on domestic issues, including the need to contain the neo-coronavirus pandemic and rebuild the economy and infrastructure, I’m not sure the rest of the world will wait until the U.S. gets its domestic affairs straightened out,” said Hillman, senior fellow for trade and international political economy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) ( (Jennifer Hillman) said. “I think there has to be some kind of response to what China is doing.”

The Wall Street Journal also reported on Nov. 15 that after years of difficult negotiations, 15 countries, including China, signed a major trade deal on Sunday that will pose an early challenge to President-elect Biden in formulating trade policy.

William Reinsch, a trade expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, said: “To be able to reach an agreement with all parties, including China, is a major achievement.” The absence of the U.S. from the agreement, he said, sends a message to the new Biden-led administration that “they need to think more about what kind of policy they want to maintain in the Pacific.”

The Financial Times also reported that analysts said RCEP could further weaken U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

“From a global perspective, even if RCEP is not as deep as other ‘mega-agreements’, it suggests that Asia will continue to push forward with trade liberalisation – even if other regions have become more sceptical,” said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC.