‘Environment and labour concerns delaying pact’

Singapore: China-backed efforts to create the world’s biggest free trade area are being held up by a push to include protection for workers and the environment, a senior Thai diplomat said.

The 16-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has been hailed as an antidote to Trump-era protectionism, particularly after the US leader pulled his country out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to pursue his “America-first” agenda.

But the much-trumpeted TPP rules on environmental protection, worker rights and government procurement are absent in the RCEP, leaving many wondering how free trade will be conducted under a Beijing-supported agreement.

Some RCEP members are pushing to have these provisions included in the RCEP as well, Arthayudh Srisamoot, deputy permanent secretary at Thailand’s foreign ministry, said at a forum in Singapore.

In January 2017 Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the TPP, with Beijing backing efforts led by Asean to formulate a rival free trade area.

Bangkok will try to push for a conclusion of the main meat of the pact under its Asean chairmanship this year, Arthayudh said.

Asean has driven the RCEP, which includes the bloc’s 10 members plus China, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea. — AFP

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