Aiming to have a final deal by the end of 2019, negotiators gathered in Siem Reap for the seventh Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Intersessional Ministerial Meeting on Saturday.
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The meeting tackled issues of market access for goods, services, and investment. It also sought to provide guidance to delegates and prepare them for future rounds of negotiations.
Pan Sorasak, the Cambodian Minister of Commerce, told reporters on Saturday that the meeting centred on widening trade between Asean member states and the other six countries participating in the agreement – Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.
He said about 90 percent of issues have been resolved, and that sticking points will be discussed and agreed upon by the leaders of all countries involved in the agreement during a meeting in November.
“When negotiations conclude and the deal is complete, the RCEP will encompass a market bigger than that of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Cambodia, the country now hosting negotiations, is playing a crucial role in bringing negotiations to an end by 2019,” the minister said, adding that all parties have agreed to wrap up negotiations by November.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who presided over the meeting, held at Sokha Siem Reap Resort and Convention Centre, said the purpose of the gathering was to resume negotiations from where they were left off at the 25th round of negotiations for RCEP held last month in Bali.
“We are all committed to concluding negotiations on time. I have been pushing my ministers and the Trade Negotiation Committee to achieve concrete results in each sector to end negotiations by the agreed deadline.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said that some of the world’s leading economies are hampering international trade through protectionist behaviour that does not reflect the guiding principles of Asean. In the face of this challenges, he said, Cambodia and all other Asean member states must remain committed to multilateralism.
“Today, the multilateral trade system is under threat from the actions of superpowers who are thinking only of their self-interest and pushing a protectionist agenda that is impacting free-trade in the region.
“In light of this developments, the 7th Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Intersessional Ministerial Meeting plays an important role.
“These negotiations will be challenging and complex but it is my hope that at the end of this arduous process, the countries involved will benefit immensely from multilateral trade,” the premier said.
Mr Hun Sen offered three recommendations to the 16 ministers negotiating the deal.
“First, all parties shall regard this negotiation as a win-win process. The resulting agreement must be fair to all parties regardless of their current stage of development.
“Second, despite diverging economic agendas, all parties must look for common ground regarding the potential benefits of the RCEP agreement so that we can overcome all challenges ahead in the negotiation process.
“Finally, all ministers must respect the political will of other countries. They must offer recommendations to our Trade Negotiation Committee based on an understanding that reflects the guiding principles agreed upon since 2012, especially regarding the provision of special treatment and market access to least developed countries,” Mr Hun Sen said.
The RCEP agreement comprises 30 percent of the world’s GDP and almost half of the global population. It represents 31.6 percent of global production, 28.5 percent of global trade, and one-fifth of global foreign direct investment flows in 2016.