ASEAN says it will study how to implement a proposed economic partnership with its six external partners that might lead to the foundation of world’s largest economic bloc.
The study, which will be launched in February, will follow talks on the partnership that are expected to begin in mid-November, as representatives from ASEAN’s member nations attend several high-level meetings in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The proposed bloc, dubbed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) or “ASEAN+6” , would integrate ASEAN’s 10 member nations and six partners in the Asia-Pacific region into a single market comprising more than 3 billion people and with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of around US$17.23 trillion.
The six partners that may join the bloc — Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand — have all signed separate free trade agreements (FTAs) with ASEAN.
The study will refer to the basic analysis compiled by three working groups covering trade in goods, services and investment, Trade Ministry’s international trade cooperation chief Iman Pambagyo said.
“The analysis from each working group was non-binding, meaning that it will be open for further discussion whenever it’s not sufficient,” Iman said on Monday on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting Summit in Vientiane, Laos.
Apart from determining which sectors should be prioritized, the study will devise a schedule on trade liberalization, when goods or services will be subject to tariff reductions, Iman said.
The RCEP, created by the association’s leaders during the 19th ASEAN Summit in Bali in November last year, aims to consolidate FTAs signed between ASEAN and its six dialogue partners to ease trade procedures and boost the flow of trade and investment within the Asia-Pacific region.
Using a principle of open accession, the partnership will welcome any of ASEAN’s six FTA partners, either from the RCEP’s inception or at a later moment. ASEAN will also consider offers of partnerships from nations outside the region.
The trade pact has been called a way for ASEAN to main centrality after several challenges were posed by other regional trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which does not include all 10 ASEAN member nations.
Iman said that Indonesia was currently finalizing its own plan on the possible commitment to a further liberalization in the trade of goods and services.
“There has been indications that in terms of trade in goods, Indonesia can have high commitment for further liberalization up to 95 percent as long as we have longer deadline [for tariff removals],” Iman said, citing ASEAN-China FTA, where both parties are already committed to reduction of import duties to zero percent starting in 2010.
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