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RCEP kicks in as China seeks to lead regional economic integration

Left out of world's largest trade bloc, U.S. prepares response

A container terminal in China's Zhejiang Province in August: The 15-member RCEP pact is connecting China, Japan and South Korea under a free trade agreement for the first time.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- An Asia-Pacific agreement to create the world's largest trade bloc entered into force on Saturday, ushering in a new phase of regional economic integration.

The launch of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership comes as countries seek to escape the pandemic malaise and shore up supply chains while China, the group's largest member, strives to raise its profile in Asia's mechanisms for integration. How Beijing opens its economy through the pact will be closely watched as the U.S. -- not party to the deal -- prepares a response of its own.

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