The South Korean government is showing signs of putting the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) before the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in free trade agreement (FTA) strategy management. President Moon Jae-in adopted a joint statement on the RCEP along with 15 heads of states on November 14, volunteering to say South Korea will act as an active coordinator in the RCEP.
This has to do with the fact that South Korea participated in the negotiations for the establishment of the RCEP from the very first phase unlike in the case of the TPP and an accession procedure is required for South Korea to join the TPP after it takes effect.
At present, the South Korean government is very careful in choosing a side between the TPP and the RCEP. However, its time is running short as each of the mega FTAs is taking concrete shape, the United States has withdrawn from the TPP, Japan and China are concentrating on the respective partnerships, the South Korean economy is hard to grow without FTAs, and the South Korean government has worked on various bilateral and multilateral FTAs for a long time.
Under the circumstances, the South Korean government is continuing to have talks to get the inside track in the China-led RCEP while looking closely into the situation related to the TPP to decide whether to join it or not. The TPP is currently showing a significant progress, led by the 11 countries including Japan, in spite of the withdrawal of the United States and the South Korean government’s stance is that it does not have to jump to a hasty conclusion. China is trying to have the RCEP signed as soon as possible although it is unlikely to be signed before the end of this year due to the conflict of national interests and economic gaps between the countries taking part in it.