Oct 25, 2012

Philippines - Asean wants larger trade bloc

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“In support of greater integration with the global economy, Asean countries are actively working to launch the start of negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP] with China, Japan, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand by the end of this year,” Asean deputy secretary-general Lim Hong Hin told a business forum in Makati City Tuesday.

Hin said Asean aimed to start negotiations with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India before the end of the year. “Despite differences, we want to move forward… and come out with a guiding principle to create RECP,” Hin said.

He said compared with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, RCEP would be more feasible and realistic. “Once completed, it will be the largest FTA in the world,” Hin said, adding Asean alone is comprised of about 600 million people.

Hin said efforts to create RCEP involved consolidating all the free trade agreements which the Asean member countries entered into. “The goal here is to promote wider economic integration,” he said.

Hin, however, discounted the idea of creating a single currency for Asean, saying “the time is not ripe for a discussion on a single currency just like the euro.”

He conceded realizing the envisioned Asean Economic Community was not easy, because of measures that needed to be implemented or complied with before 2015.

The Asean Economic Community aims for a single market and production base characterized by free flow of goods, services, investments, capital and skilled labor.

“Despite progress in a number of areas, 28 percent of AEC measures due to be implemented for 2008-2011 are still pending as of end-August 2012,” he said.

The measures include trade facilitation (customs modernization standard and conformance), services liberalization, investment, agriculture, consumer protection, and ratification of transport agreements.

He said the reasons for the delay in implementation of these measures could be linked to the failure to comply with decisions, treaties and protocols at the national levels.

“Others point to implementation bottlenecks due to lack of necessary funds to support the integration measures, especially at the national level,” he said.

Hin said “this is a concern because failure of many Asean countries to follow through on their commitments may undermine the success of AEC.”

Julito G. Rada

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