RCEP negotiations set for conclusion in November

THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its six trade partners are hoping for the conclusion of the negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) before the end of the year.

Following the 7th RCEP Ministerial Meeting held in Bangkok earlier this week, Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit said that the RCEP members have agreed that talks should be wrapped up and that results of negotiations should be announced in November.

At present, negotiators from all participating countries have concluded on seven out of the 20 issues to be tackled. Among the resolved issues were customs and trade facilitation; state procurements; economic and technical cooperation; and small and medium enterprises.

Meanwhile, 13 more, concering wider-range issues such as e-commerce to competition, intellectual property rights, telecommunications and market expansion for goods, to services and investments, are to be tackled.

It can be learned that negotiations for RCEP have been dragged on for nearly seven years through numerous rounds of talks. The talks were hampered by the lack of free trade agreements between some partners, such as China and Japan, India and China, and India, Australia, and New Zealand.

Follow-up on the talks will be scheduled on September 19 to 27 while the official signing of the wrapped up agreement is expected to occur in 2020.

“ASEAN countries and their dialogue partners have agreed to be flexible in various areas including market access, services and investment, so the talks can be concluded,” Jurin told the media.

Once the RCEP is complete, the 16 countries are expected to create a trading bloc that encompasses some 3.56 billion people and accounts for about one-third of the world’s gross domestic product.

The combined trade volume between the signatories will exceed $10.3 trillion, or equivalent to 29 percent of the global trade.

The RCEP is an initiative launched by the 16 countries in 2012 which was aimed at promoting economic ties among the 10 ASEAN countries and its six dialogue partners namely China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, and New Zealand.

Following the ministerial meeting, the signatories have asked India to make up its mind on whether it would still want to remain in the group.

The demand came amid discussions that India is immediately eliminating tariffs on more than a fourth of traded goods once the agreement comes into force.

India is said to be extending large tariff cuts on ASEAN members but will be more conservative when it comes to China.