THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and its trading partners have decided to delay to next year the conclusion of talks for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), even after 19 rounds of negotiations.
Asean Secretary General Le Luong Minh said the objective was to come up with a “substantial” RCEP during the Philippine chairmanship of the Asean this year.
The “full-fledged” RCEP, a 16-nation trade deal touted as the alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will happen during the Singapore chairmanship of the Asean in 2018, he told The Manila Times.
“We have achieved a lot under the Philippine chairmanship. We hoped for the early conclusion of the RCEP. But to be realistic, and we have been realistic, we have set the target for this year not of concluding the full-fledged RCEP, but the conclusion of the substantial RCEP,” he said in an interview on Sunday.
“The conclusion of the full-fledged RCEP will be the target for 2018, and will be achieved under the Singapore chairmanship,” he added.
RCEP will cover Asean’s 10 member-states and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Formal negotiations began in 2012, with India hosting the 19th round of talks in July. Reports earlier said trade ministers could abandon the target of finalizing a deal this year over the extent of market liberalization commitments, among other issues.
Asean members want to keep tariff lines to be covered by RCEP at 90-92 percent. In September, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said “anything lower or higher than that is not acceptable for Asean.”
Asean trade ministers on Sunday signed instead trade and investment agreements with Hong Kong, which were finalized after three years of negotiations.
The Asean-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement is Asean’s sixth free trade agreement with external partners, after China, South Korea, Japan, India and Australia-New Zealand.
The deal contains 14 chapters covering market access liberalization, trade facilitation, “rules to promote confidence in trade,” and “cooperation aimed at facilitating trade in goods and services in the region.”