Nov 23, 2012

Asia - ASEAN Plus 6 FTA Partners Launch Trade Talks

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At the recent 21st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, it was agreed that talks should begin on a new regional trade treaty, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The RCEP is to be negotiated between ASEAN’s ten member countries - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – and its current six free trade agreement (FTA) partners - Australia, New Zealand, China, India, South Korea and Japan.

The idea of such a new trade treaty, linking an integrated market comprising over 3bn people with a combined gross domestic product of some USD20 trillion, was first mooted at the 19th ASEAN Summit in November last year, when leaders of the ten ASEAN member states adopted the RCEP framework setting out the general principles for broadening and deepening ASEAN’s engagement with its FTA Partners, and signaled ASEAN’s commitment to play a central role in the emerging regional economic architecture.

It is said that the significant progress made through ASEAN’s FTAs with its six FTA partners has put the countries in a position to bring their economic partnership to a higher level by negotiating a comprehensive, high-quality agreement. If completed, the RCEP would be the largest regional trading arrangement to date.

“With the region accounting for more than half of the global market and about a third of the global economic output, there is no doubt that a successful RCEP would significantly contribute and boost global trade and investment,” said Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN’s Secretary-General.

RCEP negotiations are expected to commence in 2013, and the Summit also endorsed the ‘Guiding Principles and Objectives for Negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership’, adopted by ASEAN’s Economic Ministers in Siem Reap in August 2012.

Based on those Guiding Principles, the RCEP – although to be negotiated initially by ASEAN and its existing FTA partners – would allow the region’s economic partners to eventually accede into the agreement. The RCEP is also expected to include provisions for economic and technical cooperation that would allow all parties, regardless of their level of development, to maximize the opportunities made available by deeper and broader economic engagements.

In the meantime, ASEAN is also going forward to set up its ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, and has urged all of its member countries to take the necessary internal measures to realize the AEC’s objectives of regional integration.

Mary Swire

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