The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is likely to be finalised in 2018, with participating countries committed to finish negotiations by the end of the year, according to a joint media statement released after the 4th RCEP Intersessional Ministerial Meeting.
The meeting, held Saturday in Singapore, was attended by ministers and other high-ranking officials from Asean member countries as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand. Lim Jock Hoi, Asean’s secretary general, was also present in the negotiations.
The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between Asean’s ten member states and the six states with which the association has existing free trade agreements: Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
“Ministers instructed all negotiators to ensure that every negotiating round and intersessional meeting achieves concrete outcomes that will bring the negotiations closer to the finish line, and to promptly raise any issue requiring the ministers’ guidance,” the statement read.
According to the statement, some chapters of the agreement are nearing conclusion, while two, on economic and technical cooperation and on small and medium enterprises, have already been finalised.
Speaking at the event, Cambodia Commerce Minister Pan Sorasak said the ministers underscored the immense potential of an RCEP agreement to not only enhance economic growth, provide more jobs and improve the livelihood of people in the RCEP region in an inclusive way, but also to contribute significantly to growth in global trade.
“The ministers reaffirmed their resolve to meet the leaders’ instruction to intensify efforts in 2018 towards the conclusion, and welcomed the work plan presented as part of the RCEP trade negotiating committee report to the ministers,” he said.
Negotiating parties at the meeting on Saturday were asked to improve their offers for market access and submit revisions by April 13. They will also have to consider a revised offer for services and investment, but no deadline was set for that.
Jayant Menon, lead economist at ADB’s trade and regional cooperation office, told Khmer Times yesterday that with 16 countries, RCEP is a diverse agreement. This diversity is the main reason the agreement keeps getting delayed, with countries finding it hard to reach consensus on key issues, he said.
“India in particular has posed problems in terms of embracing the liberalisation agenda,” he said.
“Political will is the key factor to concluding RCEP, while competition, intellectual property rights and rules of origin are also the main issues.”
Mr Jayant said the agreement should help Cambodia expand its engagement in global value chains by promoting greater investment from countries like Japan. It should also improve Cambodia’s access to the markets of other countries in the region, he added.
A ministerial meeting will be held sometime in July this year before the Asean economic ministers’ meeting in August. There will also be two meetings of RCEP chief negotiators in April and June.