PETALING JAYA: Negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between Asean and six of its dialogue partners are on track to meet its target conclusion by the end of this year.
RCEP trade ministers, who met in Hanoi yesterday to take stock of the negotiations and challenges faced since 2013, achieved progress in the meeting.
“The ministerial meeting is to provide political guidance to the negotiators on key outstanding areas namely goods, services and investments with a view to push for a timely conclusion of RCEP negotiations.
“The negotiations are progressing at a moderate pace and a number of challenges were addressed at the Hanoi meeting,” the ministers said in a statement issued at the end of the meeting.
RCEP is the only mega free trade deal being negotiated now involving the 10 Asean members, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Korea and India, collectively covering an integrated market of 3.5 billion or 50% of the world’s population.
The first RCEP negotiation round was held in Brunei in 2013, and 18 rounds of negotiations at senior officials level had been held so far.
International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed and his counterparts from Singapore and Vietnam apprised the meeting on issues and challenges faced in achieving consensus on certain elements of the modalities related to goods, services and investment.
“The ministers agreed to provide flexibilities to bridge the gaps given that it will be difficult to reach consensus with the different levels of economic development of participating countries.
“These flexibilities are allowed in the initial stage to cater to the different levels of ambition of the RCEP member countries.
“This does not in any way undermine our commitment to ensure that RCEP remains a quality agreement and is commercially beneficial to all parties involved,” said Mustapa.
The ministers also took note that progress was made in all areas of negotiations and that two out of 20 chapters of the RCEP Agreement on economic and technical cooperation, and on SMEs had been concluded. Some of the remaining chapters are nearing conclusion.
Senior officials will meet for the 19th round of negotiations in Hyderabad, India, in July.