‘Speed up’ FTA negotiations: Commerce Minister

May Kunmakara / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Asean commerce ministers hold hands for a picture during the 2017 Asean Summit.in Manila, Philippines. Supplied

Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak has urged all countries involved in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement to speed up negotiations to have it ready as soon as possible.

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The RCEP is a regional economic agreement being negotiated between the 10 Asean governments and their six free trade agreement partners – Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

RCEP negotiations started in early 2013 with the goal of boosting trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region.

Mr Sorasak, who represents the kingdom in the negotiations, said talks are now focused on finalising the protocol for the agreement.

“We urge the Trade Negotiating Committee to expedite the process for the benefit and of all 16 member countries.

“The RCEP has the potential to create jobs, bolster sustainable economic growth and development and promote innovation, as well as improve the lives of all our citizens,” Mr Sorasak said, adding that fellow negotiators have expressed similar sentiments.

Jayant Menon, the lead economist of the Asian Development Bank’s Trade and Regional Cooperation Office, told Khmer Times recently that the RCEP will probably not be finalised this year, as a number of problems remain, such as divergent interests among participating nations.

“The RCEP will probably be signed sometime next year. They have been trying to finish it for a while now, but it is hard given the number of stakeholders at the negotiation table and all the different interests they have,” Mr Menon said.

Mr Menon added that negotiators should not rush the process, however, as it takes time to draft an agreement that represents real, palpable change.

He added that the RCEP will create a huge market and that Cambodia needs to begin preparations to make sure it takes advantage of the new opportunities the agreement will bring.

The ADB economist said the kingdom should be addressing key challenges, including upping the skill level of its workforce, reforming key institutions to enhance the rule of law and fence off corruption, reducing the cost of electricity, as well as cutting red tape to improve the investment climate.

All Asean members involved in the RCEP have reiterated their desire to cut tariffs for at least 5,000 products – about 90 percent of all products covered by the agreement –over a period of 15 years.

The RCEP will cover nearly 3.5 billion people, making it the largest trade bloc in terms of population, as well as a third of the world’s gross domestic product and total trade.

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