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The AptA recognises the specific needs of LDCs and calls for concrete preference measures in its favour (Article 3). Participating states can grant special concessions to least developed countries (Article 7) and commit to paying particular attention to NDC requests for technical assistance. In practice, most members have made special concessions to LDCs in successive rounds of trade liberalization (see here lists of concessions for the fourth round). The Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), formerly the Bangkok Agreement, is a preferential tariff regime that aims to promote intra-regional trade by exchanging concessions agreed by member states. Its current members are Bangladesh, China, India, the Republic of Korea, the Lao People`s Republic and Sri Lanka. Mongolia has concluded bilateral negotiations on tariff concessions and is expected to become the seventh member. As China`s first multilateral trade agreement, the RCEP also facilitates trade with countries such as Japan and South Korea, where concluding a bilateral agreement would be too politically sensitive, Lee-Makiyama said. Although China already has a number of bilateral trade agreements, this is the first time it has signed a regional multilateral trade pact. The agreement will make it easier for countries like Japan to “diversify their global supply chains with Asia,” said Max Zenglein, chief economist at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, as it harmonizes rules of origin between partner countries. An Indonesian product containing, for example, Australian coins could expect tariffs elsewhere in the Asean Free Trade Area.

In the longer term, Li called the agreement a “victory for multilateralism and free trade.” For China, the agreement is a geopolitical and economic victory, which aims to become the region`s leading trade player after the U.S. exits the more ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017. “The economic benefits of the agreement may be marginal for Southeast Asia, but there are some interesting trade and customs dynamics for Southeast Asia,” said Nick Marro of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). “Countries such as Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand accept that the inclusion of chapters [trade and sustainable development] is an essential condition for a free trade agreement with the EU,” said Isabelle Van Damme, trade lawyer at Van Bael-Bellis.