The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed free trade agreement between Asean and the six Asia-Pacific states with which it has existing free trade agreements, is expected to be signed next year.
Negotiations to finalise the RCEP continued this week during a two-day meeting in Phuket, Thailand.
The ministers of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam agreed to conclude the protracted RCEP negotiations by the time Asean leaders hold their annual summit in November, Thai Deputy Commerce Minister Chutima Bunyapraphasara was quoted as saying by ABC SBN News.
The signing of the agreement has been delayed due to political changes in some of the countries, according to ABC SBN News.
It noted that Indonesia and Thailand recently held elections, India is currently holding one, and voters in Australia and the Philippines are due to go to the polls in May.
The agreement is being negotiated between all 10 Asean member states, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.
Jayant Menon, lead economist at ADB’s trade and regional cooperation office, told Khmer Times recently 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.
Asean Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi recently said that the RCEP will help boost economic growth in the region and support Asean’s plan to double intra-Asean trade to about $590 billion by 2025.