The signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement at the Asean summit on Sunday, which will formalise the world's largest trade deal involving 15 countries, will mark an important milestone for Asian trade. The timing is significant in that it comes as the newly elected Biden administration readies to take office in the United States on Jan 20. But looking ahead, more changes in global trade arrangements may be afoot. Judging from what he has written and said, President-elect Joe Biden wants to ensure that the US, not China, should be writing the rules that govern trade. Asian countries should thus prepare for some significant changes in the approach to trade by the world's largest economy. Many of them will be beneficial to the region, but not all the legacies of the Trump administration's trade policies will be erased, and there may even be some new restrictions.
On the positive side, the Biden administration, which supports multilateralism, will likely try to revive the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which is supposed to be the global watchdog of world trade. But at the same time, it will push to reform the institution to make it more relevant to current trade realities, which would be welcome.