Opportunities and Challenges for ASEAN and East Asia from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership on E-Commerce
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a microcosm of the current tensions in negotiations on digital trade involving parties that have divergent positions on the digital economy, data, and regulation, including within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) itself. It adopts a prudent approach that recognises the state parties need flexibility and policy space at the national and regional levels to develop of policy and regulation in the rapidly changing digital ecosystem and seeks to advance their collective interests through dialogue and cooperation. This paper contrasts that approach with the disciplinary nature of binding legal obligations that are enforceable by other states and their investors, as in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and similar recent treaties. The analysis of key differences focuses on matters of particular importance to ASEAN, such as local content and government procurement, data rules and flexibilities, financial data, source codes, and transparency. RCEP’s cautious approach enables ASEAN members to deepen their national and regional understanding of the opportunities and challenges these agreements present, whilst developing and implementing their own digital development strategies. Yet those good efforts may be undermined through the binding and enforceable trade in services rules.