Asia poised for free trade talks
- Published: 23/04/2013 at 08:42 PM
- Online news:
Thailand and 15 Asia-Pacific partners will start talks next month on a free trade zone that would cover more than half the world's population, according to a document obtained by AFP Tuesday.
It all began last November at the Asean summits in Cambodia. (File photo)
Negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are poised to begin despite bitter territorial rifts among planned members, including China, Japan and some Southeast Asian nations.
Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), who will meet in Brunei on Wednesday and Thursday, are expected to focus on kickstarting the RCEP talks, just five months after conceiving the idea and beginning the process last year at the Asean summit in Cambodia.
Leaders will sign an agreement that "the negotiations will commence in May 2013 in Brunei... with a view to completing them by 2015", according to the latest draft of the chairman's end-of-meeting statement that was obtained by AFP.
"We looked forward to the broadening and deepening of existing (free trade agreements) and envisioned the RCEP to be a platform for future trade and investment integration in Asia and the rest of the world," said the draft, which was prepared by senior officials and could be changed.
It is a long way from concept to finished, but if the RCEP is successful, it would be the largest and most populous free-trade area ever.
A senior Southeast Asian trade official said the first round of RCEP negotiations are expected to start on May 9.
RCEP covers Asean's 10 member countries - Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam - as well as Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Japan and South Korea.
It aims to tie together Asean's bilateral free trade agreements with each trading partner. It specifically excludes the United States, which is leading talks for a rival trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The TPP currently involves 12 countries: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
US President Barack Obama invited Thailand to join the TPP negotiations last November, but Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra only committed to considering the idea.
"The RCEP provides an important platform for building trade liberalisation within the Asia-Pacific, which is the world's fastest growing region," said Rajiv Biswas, chief regional economist at IHS Global Insight.
"The initiative is very important as it includes the three major drivers of emerging markets growth - China, India and Asean."
Potential members have said previously they are keen to make progress towards an RCEP, despite being engaged in diplomatic rows over various rival territorial claims in the region.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia have competing claims to parts of the South China Sea, and tensions have escalated in recent years amid complaints of increased Chinese aggression.
Meanwhile, China and Japan are locked in an even more tense dispute over islands in the East China Sea.
In another territorial row, relations between Tokyo and Seoul have been strained by a dispute over a Seoul-controlled chain of islets in the Sea of Japan (East Sea).
About the author
- Writer: AFP
Position: News agency