The Comprehensive Economic Partnership for East ASIA (CEPEA) is a Japanese led proposal for trade co-operation, free trade agreement, among the 16 present member countries of the East Asia Summit.
The CEPEA initiative has emerged as one of the most important steps being taken under the East Asia Summit (EAS). The idea for CEPEA was proposed by Japan at the 2nd EAS held in January 2007. The working group, constituted from among the member states, has already finalized a draft framework for the CEPEA, which is being discussed by the member countries. Focusing on a range of issues including trade in goods and services, investment and intellectual property rights among others, CEPEA hopes to contribute towards a free, fair and rule-based economic integration process in the region.
The 16 countries involved in the CEPEA initiative include the 10 members of ASEAN (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia), the “ASEAN-Plus Three” countries (China, Japan, South Korea) and India, Australia and New Zealand.
13 of the 16 nations (excluding India, Australia and New Zealand) are also simultaneously negotiating an East Asia Free Trade Area (EA-FTA). There is a sense that the CEPEA serves the same purpose as the East Asia-FTA (EA-FTA) that is currently being worked out. In this regard, it has been clarified that the CEPEA has an exclusive purpose of facilitating trade liberalization and economic cooperation. The two processes are not seen as alternatives and both are being pursued simultaneously.
Japan’s insistence on the inclusion of India along with Australia and New Zealand as part of the larger integration process highlights its concerns regarding an economically and strategically balanced East Asia.
For India, being part of the CEPEA would mean enlargement of its export market from just Southeast Asia to all of East Asia. More importantly, it would open definite avenues for consolidating its participation in an East Asian Community. Benefits from such developments are obvious in terms of strengthened economic and political support from the regional bloc along with opportunities for increased influence on the region.