RCEP Explained: The World’s Biggest Trading Bloc
Trade and commerce are the lifeblood of the global economy. Naturally, agreements among nations in a certain geographical area help facilitate relationships in ways that are ideally beneficial for everyone involved.
In late 2020, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was signed, officially creating the biggest trade bloc in history. Here, we break down everything you need to know about it, from who’s involved to its implications.
Who’s in the RCEP, and Why Was it Created?
The RCEP is a free trade agreement between 15 nations in the Asia-Pacific region, and has been formalized after 28 rounds of discussion over eight years.
Member nations who are a part of the RCEP will benefit from lowered or completely eliminated tariffs on imported goods and services within the region in the next 20 years. Here are the countries which have signed on to be member nations:
|Country||Population (M)||Nominal GDP ($B)|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||51.8||$1,631|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||5.1||$209|
But there is still some work to do to bring the trade agreement into full effect.
Signing the agreement, the step taken in late 2020, is simply an initial show of support for the trade agreement, but now it needs to be ratified. That means these nations still have to give their consent to be legally bound to the terms within the RCEP. Once the RCEP is ratified by three-fifths of its signatories—a minimum of six ASEAN nations and three non-ASEAN nations—it will go ahead within 60 days.
So far, it’s been ratified by China, Japan, Thailand, and Singapore as of April 30, 2021. At its current pace, the RCEP is set to come into effect in early 2022 as all member nations have agreed to complete the ratification process within the year.
Interestingly, in the midst of negotiations in 2019, India pulled out of the agreement. This came after potential concerns about the trade bloc’s impacts on its industrial and agricultural sectors that affect the “lives and livelihoods of all Indians”. India retains the option to rejoin the RCEP in the future, if things change.
The Biggest Trading Blocs, Compared
When we say the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is the biggest trade bloc in history, this statement is not hyperbole.
The RCEP will not only surpass existing Asia-Pacific trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in size and scope, but also other key regional partnerships in advanced economies.
This includes the European Union and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, formerly known as NAFTA). How does the trio stack up?
|Nominal GDP, 2020||Population, 2020|
|EU||$15.2 trillion||445 million|
|USMCA||$23.7 trillion||496 million|
|RCEP||$26.1 trillion||2.27 billion|
|World||$84.5 trillion||7.64 billion|
With the combined might of its 15 signatories, the RCEP accounts for approximately 30% of global GDP and population. Interestingly, the total population covered within the RCEP is near or over five times that of the other trade blocs.
Another regional agreement not covered here is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is now the largest in terms of participating countries (55 in total), but in the other metrics, the RCEP still emerges superior.
Implications of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership
The potential effects of the RCEP are widespread. Among others, the agreement will establish rules for the region around:
- Intellectual property
However, there are some key exclusions that have raised critics’ eyebrows. These are:
- Labor union provisions
- Environmental protection
- Government subsidies
The RCEP could also help China gain even more ground in its economic race against the U.S. towards becoming a global superpower.
Last, but most importantly, Brookings estimates that the potential gains from the RCEP are in the high billions: $209 billion could be added annually to world incomes, and $500 billion may be added to world trade by 2030.
Comparing the Speed of U.S. Interest Rate Hikes (1988-2022)
The effective federal funds rate has risen more than two percentage points in six months. How does this compare to other interest rate hikes?
Comparing the Speed of U.S. Interest Rate Hikes
As U.S. inflation remains at multi-decade highs, the Federal Reserve has been aggressive with its interest rate hikes. In fact, rates have risen more than two percentage points in just six months.
In this graphic—which was inspired by a chart from Chartr—we compare the speed and severity of the current interest rate hikes to other periods of monetary tightening over the past 35 years.
Measuring Periods of Interest Rate Hikes
We used the effective federal funds rate (EFFR), which measures the weighted average of the rates that banks use to lend to each other overnight. It is determined by the market but influenced by the Fed’s target range. We considered the starting point for each cycle to be the EFFR during the month when the first rate hike took place.
Here is the duration and severity of each interest rate hike cycle since 1988.
|Time Period||Duration |
|Total Change in EFFR
|Mar 1988 - May 1989||14||3.23|
|Feb 1994 - Feb 1995||12||2.67|
|Jun 1999 - May 2000||11||1.51|
|Jun 2004 - Jun 2006||24||3.96|
|Dec 2015 - Dec 2018||36||2.03|
|Mar 2022 - Sep 2022||6||2.36|
* We considered a rate hike cycle to be any time period when the Federal Reserve raised rates at two or more consecutive meetings. The 2022 rate hike cycle is ongoing with data as of September 2022.
The 2022 rate hike cycle is the fastest, reaching a 2.36 percentage point increase nearly twice as fast as the rate hike cycle of ‘88-‘89.
On the other hand, the most severe interest rate hikes occurred in the ‘04 – ‘06 cycle when the EFFR climbed by almost four percentage points. It took much longer to reach this level, however, with the hikes taking place over two years.
Timing Interest Rate Hikes
Why are 2022’s interest rate hikes so rapid? U.S. inflation far exceeds the Fed’s long-term target of 2%. In fact, when the hikes started in March 2022, inflation was the highest it’s ever been in the last six rate hike cycles.
|Time Period||Inflation Rate at Start of Cycle|
|Mar 1988 - May 1989||3.60%|
|Feb 1994 - Feb 1995||2.06%|
|Jun 1999 - May 2000||1.40%|
|Jun 2004 - Jun 2006||2.89%|
|Dec 2015 - Dec 2018||0.30%|
|Mar 2022 - Sep 2022||6.77%|
Inflation rate is the year-over-year change as measured by the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Index.
In contrast, three of the rate hike cycles started with inflation at or below the 2% target. Inflation was just 0.30% in December 2015 when the Fed announced its first rate hike since the global financial crisis.
Some criticized the Fed for raising rates prematurely, but the Fed’s rationale was that it can take up to three years or more for policy actions to affect economic conditions. By raising rates early and gradually, the Fed hoped to avoid surging inflation in the future.
Fast forward to today, and the picture couldn’t look more different. Inflation exceeded the 2% target for 12 months before the Fed began to raise rates. Initially, the Fed believed inflation was “transitory” or short-lived. Now, inflation is a top financial concern and there is a risk that it has gathered enough momentum that it will be difficult to bring down.
Balancing Inflation and Recession Risks
The Fed expects to raise its target rate to around 4.4% by the end of 2022, up from the current range of 3-3.25%. However, they don’t foresee inflation reaching their 2% target until 2025.
In the meantime, the rapid interest rate hikes could lead to an economic downturn. Risks of a global recession have increased as other central banks raise their rates too. The World Bank offers policymakers a number of suggestions to help avoid a recession:
- Central banks can communicate policy decisions clearly to secure inflation expectations and, hopefully, reduce how much they need to raise rates.
- Governments can carefully withdraw fiscal support, develop medium-term spending and tax policies, and provide targeted help to vulnerable households.
- Other economic policymakers can help relieve supply pressures through various measures. For instance, they can introduce policies to increase labor force participation, enhance global trade networks, and bring in measures to reduce energy consumption.
Will policymakers heed this advice and, if so, will it prove sufficient to avoid a global recession?
Visualized: The World’s Population at 8 Billion
Our population will soon reach a new milestone—8 billion. These visualizations show where all those people are distributed around the world
Visualized: The World’s Population at 8 Billion
At some point in late 2022, the eight billionth human being will enter the world, ushering in a new milestone for humanity.
In just 48 years, the world population has doubled in size, jumping from four to eight billion. Of course, humans are not equally spread throughout the planet, and countries take all shapes and sizes. The visualizations in this article aim to build context on how the eight billion people are distributed around the world.
For extended coverage of this moment and what it means to the world, you can get access to our full report and webinar by signing up to VC+, our premium newsletter.
Now, here’s a look at each country’s population as of September 2022:
|Global Rank||Country/Region||Population (2022)|
|3||🇺🇸 United States||335,391,957|
|16||Democratic Republic of Congo||96,104,525|
|92||United Arab Emirates||10,164,747|
|97||Papua New Guinea||9,342,727|
|104||Hong Kong SAR||7,635,279|
|125||Central African Republic||5,025,077|
|136||Bosnia and Herzegovina||3,235,985|
|154||Trinidad and Tobago||1,409,672|
|173||Micronesia (Fed. States of)||561,300|
|188||Sao Tome and Principe||228,652|
|196||Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||111,732|
|199||United States Virgin Islands||104,083|
|200||Antigua and Barbuda||99,773|
|202||Isle of Man||86,049|
|208||Northern Mariana Islands||58,336|
|211||Saint Kitts and Nevis||54,052|
|214||Turks and Caicos||39,924|
|220||British Virgin Islands||30,687|
|227||Wallis and Futuna||10,818|
|230||Saint Pierre & Miquelon||5,732|
Below are regional breakdowns of population.
Africa’s Population by Country
As of 2022, Africa’s total population stands at 1.4 billion people. Many of the countries with the fastest growth rates are located in Africa and by 2050, the population of the continent is expected to jump to 2.5 billion.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy. Based on current growth rates, Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, could even emerge as the world’s top megacity by the end of the century.
Africa has by far the lowest median age of any of the other continents.
Asia’s Population by Country
With 4.7 billion people in 2022, Asia is by far the world’s most populous region.
The continent is dominated by the two massive population centers of China and India. In 2023, a big shift will occur, with India surpassing China to become the world’s most populous country. China has held top spot for centuries, but the mismatch between the two countries’ growth rates made it only a matter of time before this milestone arrived.
Asia is a region of contrast when it comes to population growth. On the one end are countries like Singapore and Japan, which are actually shrinking. On the other, are Middle Eastern nations like Oman and Qatar, which have robust population growth rates of 4-5%.
Vietnam is on the cusp of becoming the 15th country to surpass the 100 million population mark.
Europe’s Population by Country
Europe’s population in 2022 is 750 million people—more than twice the size of the United States.
A century ago, Europe’s population was close to 30% of the world total. Today, that figure stands at less than 10%. This is, in part, due to population growth throughout other regions of the world.
More importantly though, Europe’s population is contracting in a number of places—Eastern Europe in particular. Many of the countries with the slowest growth rates are located in the Balkans and former Soviet Bloc countries.
Russia remains Europe’s largest country by population. Although the country’s landmass extends all the way across Asia, three-quarters of Russia’s people live on the European side of the country.
Germany is the second largest country in Europe, followed by the UK, France, and Italy.
Ukraine is the seventh largest population center in Europe, but it remains to be seen how the current conflict with Russia impacts the country’s long-term population prospects.
North America’s Population by Country
North America’s population is 602 million people as of 2022.
The continent is dominated by the United States, which makes up more than half of the total population. America’s population is still growing modestly (by global standards), but perhaps more interesting are the internal migration patterns that are occurring. States like Texas and Florida are seeing an influx from other states.
Canada has one of the highest population growth rates of major developed economies thanks to international migration.
Mexico is currently the 10th most populous country, but will eventually be bumped from the top 10 list by fast-growing African nations.
South America’s Population by Country
The population of South America in 2022 is 439 million. Brazil makes up nearly half of that total.
Sometime this decade, Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, will become the region’s fifth megacity (which is defined as having a population of 10 million or more). São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Lima are South America’s current megacities.
Oceania’s Population by Country
The population of the Oceania region is 44 million people—just slightly higher than the population of California.
Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea make up the lion’s share of the population of this region.
Interestingly, many of the smallest countries by population can also be found in this region.
When Will Earth’s Population Hit 9 Billion?
The next global population milestone—nine billion—will likely be hit sometime in the 2030s.
In fact, Earth’s population is expected to continue growing until it hits a peak at some point in the 2080s—possibly over the 10 billion mark.
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